Maybe it's the newly blooming flowers after a long and snowy winter or maybe it's all the recent talks I've been having with shop owners around the country. Whatever it is, I am in a particularly optimistic mood as we head into the spring and on toward summer.

Tales of economic doom and gloom that so fill the mainstream media seem to be largely disconnected from the reality reported by shop owners I talk to. Oh sure, shops that rely almost entirely on residential new construction are experiencing a slowdown. But they seem to be effectively moving into other areas, such as commercial work and remodeling.

Commercial work seems to be a particularly bright light with continuing and often growing activity.

Going back to the results of our recent Small Shop Survey, it was also heartening to note how many shops polled in January and February were still predicting growth for 2008. The same has been true among shop owners I've talked to in recent visits to Virginia, California, and North Carolina.

The visit to North Carolina was particularly interesting because it involved attendance at the  Biesse One2One event where about 100 shop owners from all over North America flew to Charlotte, N.C., for two days of meetings, workshops, and networking. There was little talk or evidence of an economic downturn there as Biesse revealed plans for a huge and innovative expansion (we'll be reporting more on that as official details become available). The Charlotte skyline was dominated by construction cranes, and most of the shop owners, no matter where they came from, expressed no serious concerns about finding enough work. In fact, most of them had come to the event because they were intent on buying new equipment to expand their capabilities.

A lot of this reminds me of that old expression: "Behold the lowly turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."

Successful business is a continuous process of taking measured risks. If there were no risks, there would be no rewards. Of course, if the economy is struggling in your area, the risks of considering expansion in new areas or with new equipment may be sizable. But interest rates are low and tax incentives are high, so setting your sights ahead and investing now is something to consider.

One thing is for certain: No business can move forward if it is focused on the past. More than 90 percent of shops in our survey rely on referrals as their primary marketing tool. That may have to change as shops develop more balanced marketing that brings in business from increasingly diverse sources. What are you doing to move forward while others around you may be standing still?

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.