Chief executives of small- and mid-sized companies expect the rapid pace of U.S. economic growth this year will slow in the second half amid tightening labor markets and rising costs, according a survey released on Wednesday.

The Vistage Confidence Index — a survey of 1,836 chief executives who are members of the CEO group Vistage International — fell to 97.8 in the second quarter, down nearly 7 points from the first-quarter reading of 104.2.

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Nearly an equal number of surveyed firms expect conditions to improve as to worsen in the next 12 months, contrasting with a year ago when three times as many firms expected a faster rather than a slower rate of economic growth.

"Even though they are not expecting a lot of growth next year, they see it stabilizing at a pretty strong place," said Dan Barnett, COO of Vistage International.

Hiring and keeping employees remains a top concern for the CEOs in the survey, outpacing worries about increasing energy costs and financing expenses as interest rates rise.

But overall, nearly two-thirds of CEOs anticipate their companies' profitability to improve over the next year.

As for rising energy prices, 30 percent of CEOs said they are absorbing the growing energy costs while 27 percent of those surveyed said they are increasing prices to customers.

Avian flu continues to worry CEOs, but implications have yet to affect economic confidence.

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