Banks are set to begin hiring – or at the very least they don’t plan on firing – according to a survey released Monday.

According to Grant Thornton LLP’s 17th Bank Executive Survey, which was conducted with Bank Director magazine, 82% of bank executives polled said that the number of people their bank employs will either increase or remain the same in the next six months.

Eighty percent said that the U.S. economy will either improve or remain the same in the next six months and 82% expect their local economy will either improve or remain the same in the next six months.

A year earlier, 86% of bankers were pessimistic about the state of the U.S. economy.

“Bankers’ opinions on the economy have certainly shifted compared to this time last year,” said John Ziegelbauer, the managing partner of Grant Thornton’s financial institutions practice. “We still have a long way to go, but they are moving in the right direction.”

In regards to their bank’s loan portfolios, the majority of bankers said that they expect to see the most loan losses in their commercial loan portfolios in the year ahead – commercial loans (17%) and commercial real estate loans (55%) – with the next largest category being residential real estate loans at 12%.

Rick Huff, a partner in Grant Thornton’s financial institutions practice, said that upon further inspection, regional data indicates that bankers in the Southeast are more pessimistic about expected losses in commercial real estate loan portfolios (65%) compared to the bankers in the Northeast region (45%).

Additionally, the survey indicated that bankers in the Northeast expect to see more losses in single and multi-family real estate loans (22%) compared to bankers in the Southeast (10%).

“It appears that Southeast bankers believe that the worst of the residential real estate losses is over,” Huff said. “While Northeast bankers seem to be predicting that the worst is yet to come for residential portfolios.”

Grant Thornton, which is based in Chicago, conducted the national survey of 246 bank chief executive officers and chief financial officers from Nov. 17 through Dec. 3. Sixty-one percent of the respondents were from small banks with less than $500 million in estimated assets and the remaining 39% were from large banks with more than $500 million in estimated assets.