Small-business owner confidence continues to drag, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index.

Hurricane Sandy damage in Seaside Heights (Matthew White, Townsquare Media NJ)

Expectations for improved business conditions increased by five points, but remain overwhelmingly low (negative 30 percent). That's the fourth lowest reading in survey history. Actual job creation and job creation plans improved nominally, but still not enough to keep up with population growth.

NFIB New Jersey director Laurie Ehlbeck says, "Last month after the 'fiscal cliff,' scare our confidence level went very low. This month we're a little bit higher. While we're still negative our members are starting to slowly see a little bit more confidence."

Ehlbeck thinks New Jersey is slightly different from the rest of the country because of the devastation left in the wake of super-storm Sandy. She explains, "A lot of our businesses are small businesses along the Jersey Shore and they were adversely affected by the storm so they might not be as confident as other businesses across the United States. A lot of things depend on what's going to happen as far as them rebuilding."

Construction trades are definitely hiring workers to help with the rebuilding and recovery efforts says Ehlbeck and that's good news resulting from a bad situation.

"In New Jersey people are still very concerned about the effects that the national health care reform is going to have on their business, how much it's going to cost," explains Ehlbeck." They're worried about property taxes. They're worried about the impending increase in the minimum wage. All of these things can have an adverse effect on their bottom line so they might be a little bit hesitant at this point to say they're going to either hire or expand their business."

"Businesses are really in a holding pattern right now," says Ehlbeck. "They're waiting and they're hopeful."

Ehlbeck applauds what Governor Chris Christie and his administration are doing to help the business community in New Jersey. She says her members see that the Christie Administration understands how tough things are for small businesses in the Garden State and feel the state is on the right path.