After a small dip last quarter, the optimism of Colorado business leaders grew modestly for the start of 2016, according to the Leeds Business Confidence Index, recently released by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

At 55.4, the overall first-quarter reading is up from 53.5 last quarter and up by 5.7 points from a year ago.

Expectations measured positive—at 50 or higher—for all metrics within the index. These include the state economy, industry sales, industry profits, capital expenditures, hiring plans and the national economy. With the exception of expectations for the national economy, which dipped into negative territory at 48.8 heading into the fourth quarter of 2015, the current standings represent 17 consecutive quarters of positive expectations, according to the index.

“Business sentiment increased ahead of the first quarter, indicating a general level of confidence among Colorado leaders,” said economist Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the Leeds School’s Business Research Division, which conducts the index. “However, Federal Reserve policy changes and the availability of workforce were the greatest concerns expressed by panelists.”

Other concerns among business leaders at the start of 2016 are global and domestic economic growth, election-year politics, the regulatory environment and the cost of housing, said Wobbekind.

Sector-by-sector highlights of the first quarter Leeds Business Confidence Index for 2016 are as follows, according to CU:

  • State economy expectations rose to 59.3 from 57.2 in the fourth quarter of 2015.
  • National economy confidence rose to 50.5 from 48.8 last quarter.
  • Profits expectations saw an increase to 55.3 from 53.6 last quarter.
  • Sales expectations heading into the first quarter ticked up to 58.4 from 55.6 last quarter.
  • Capital expenditure expectations rose to 54 from 53.1 last quarter.
  • Hiring expectations increased to 54.9, up from 53.1 last quarter.

Colorado’s unemployment level decreased from 4.2% in August 2015 to 3.6% in November. The November rate compares with a national unemployment rate of 5% at that time.

Year-over-year employment growth was recorded in most of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) of the state, with the Fort Collins-Loveland and the Greeley MSAs seeing the biggest increase (both +3.9%). They are followed by Denver-Aurora-Lakewood (+2%), Boulder (+.8%), Pueblo (+.7%) and Colorado Springs (+.5%). Employment went neither up nor down, or was flat, in Grand Junction.

Statewide, the biggest employment gains in October 2015 compared with the same month in 2014 were in the construction, leisure and hospitality, and education and health-services sectors.