Washington area businesspeople are worried that high fuel prices will hurt their businesses, according to a new survey.

About 35 percent of owners of small and mid-size businesses in the Washington area named higher energy prices as the issue they expect to have the greatest negative impact on their firm's performance, according to a survey commissioned by PNC Financial Services Group. Asked the same question in the spring, 16 percent of business owners named energy prices as their top concern.

Other top concerns named by local executives were inflation and the cost of health insurance, followed by rising interest rates. Overall, the local executives appear less bullish about the U.S. economy, with 30 percent describing themselves as "pessimistic," compared with 21 percent in the spring.

The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, includes 150 businesspeople in the Washington area, with an 8 percent margin of error. Those surveyed included businesses with annual revenue of $100,000 to $250 million.

It is difficult to tell how much of the increased concern about energy costs came from spiking gasoline prices after Hurricane Katrina because the survey was conducted over a one-month span beginning Aug. 10, and thus was conducted before and after the storm.

-- Neil Irwin