Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks, sold more than $3 billion worth of financial management and accounting software, do-it-yourself web sites, and other products and services to small firms in its 2009 fiscal year. That broad customer base is a natural source of data about trends at the small-business end of the economic spectrum—an opportunity that Intuit has seized with the launch of its Small Business Employment Index. Inaugurated in March, this monthly survey tracks data on employment, hours worked, and compensation as gleaned from about 55,000 small businesses that use Intuit Online Payroll, a web-based payroll service. The latest news from these firms, all of which employ fewer than 20 people, is noticeably upbeat. Intuit says that the 0.33% increase in employment they reported in April equates to a 4% annual growth rate. This, according to Intuit, translates to about 66,000 new jobs in April and roughly 300,000 new jobs since June 2009, when an upward trend in employment began. A press release announcing the results also said that compensation grew by 0.5% in April and now stands at $2,607 per month vs. $2,595 per month in March. Monthly hours worked were up by 0.5% in April to 105.7 hours, compared to 105.1 hours in March. This is said to translate to wages of about $31,300 per year for all employees and a 24.4-hour work week for hourly employees. Intuit believes that tracking firms with employment of less than 20 gives the best window onto small-business performance. It also draws a distinction between stand-alone small businesses and “establishments,” which it defines as branch locations of a parent enterprise. Only discrete businesses whose total number of employees is below 20 are surveyed for the Small Business Employment Index, says Dr. Susan Woodward in a post at Intuit’s small business blog. Woodward, an economist who created the index for Intuit, explains that the hiring practices of a centrally administered establishment—even one with just a few workers—would be substantially different from that of an independent small firm that can act on its own. Since last year, Intuit has also conducted a series of town hall meetings at which its customers discuss money management and other business matters in a peer-group setting. A related survey of 300 small business owners conducted online from April 15 to April 20 found that 52% with at least one employee said they are planning to hire in the next 12 months (vs. 44% of those surveyed in September 2009). Better than half (56%) believe that full economic recovery is at least two years off, more than double the percentage of those responding to this question in September 2009. Complete survey findings can be downloaded here.