As businesses strive to grow out of the Great Recession, a survey found 56 percent of them say their biggest challenge is overcoming the economic downturn.

But the survey also found some encouragement, with 50 percent of businesses predicting things will get better in the next year.

The mixed findings are from a study that documents how businesses got through the recession and how they plan to recover. The study was produced by Salt River Project and the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, which surveyed 833 businesses in 2011.

The research showed a starkly different business climate compared with a previous study in 2007. Then, just 1 percent of businesses said the economy was their most significant challenge. That shot up to 56 percent in 2011.

The survey found 39 percent of companies responded to the recession with layoffs, while 28 percent tried to expand with a more aggressive business approach. Fifteen percent said they didn’t take any steps.

The survey involved mostly small businesses across all segments of the economy. Companies with 20 or more employees are expected to lead the economic recovery. They are more optimistic, are more likely to expand, and also tend to use social media more than smaller companies.

Other findings include:

• For the past six months, 64 percent of companies stayed the same size, 19 percent shrunk and 13 percent grew.

• In the next 12 months, 50 percent expect better times, 34 percent anticipate the same and 12 percent fear things will worsen.

• About half of companies use social media. Of those, 8 percent said Facebook helped them increase revenue.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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