One way to understand where the local economy is heading is to ask the executives who decide when and how much to spend on their businesses -- and who can often detect signs of a slump before consumers.

The challenge is finding some way to measure that. One recent attempt is the Business Pulse survey of local executives conducted each quarter by Widmeyer Research & Polling, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Washington Business Journal. It's not perfect; with only 211 executives participating in the most recent survey, released last week, the results had a hefty margin of error of 6.8 percent.

Still, it gives some idea what local business people expect in the quarter to come. Those expectations are the best in the survey's nine-month history.

About 40 percent of the executives questioned consider prospects in the region "very positive" in the third quarter, compared with 25 percent in the second quarter. And 45 percent expect to hire more people in the next three months, a jump from the 34 percent who planned to hire more in the second quarter.

Local executives have some concerns, though. For 26 percent, the threat of terrorism was the biggest problem for the region's economy through the rest of the year. A close second was the prospect of rising interest rates (24 percent), followed by the outcome of the November election (22 percent).

-- Neil Irwin