Hiring by the nation’s small employers is accelerating, a sign that the stubbornly slow overall job recovery may be poised to gain momentum.

So far this year, small businesses have added roughly twice as many workers a month as they did in most of 2010, recent data show. Experts say small employers are cautiously ramping up as they gain confidence that business conditions and loan activity will hold steady or improve.

Financial, technology and other service providers have been doing the most hiring, mainly in areas such as sales and engineering, while employment in construction remains weak.

So far this year, companies with fewer than 500 employees have added an average of 188,000 jobs a month, according to payroll-company Automatic Data Processing Inc. Last year, they added an average of just 68,500 jobs a month.

Those numbers still aren’t what economists consider healthy, but they’re an improvement, and they’re significant because companies with fewer than 500 workers employ about half of all private-sector employees in the U.S., according to the Small Business Administration.

“Small and young firms are the engine for job growth that we need,” says Stephen Bronars, a senior economist for Welch Consulting, a labor advisory firm in Washington, D.C. They’re “where the bulk of job creation is going to occur.”

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