The U.S.’s latest GDP figures show the economy is growing at its fastest pace in years, but small businesses are still reeling.

According to government data, U.S. 2009 fourth-quarter GDP grew at a 5.6-percent clip – the fastest pace since 2003. Government stimulus, greater exports and less-severe reductions in business inventories have been credited with the growth, but data from Sageworks, which compiles financial information on privately-held companies, paints a far bleaker picture for small businesses.

Drew White,  Sageworks’s chief financial officer, said the survey results representing “tens-to-hundreds of thousands” of U.S. privately-held companies, showed a marked decline in 2009 revenues. White said 2009 fourth-quarter sales, by small private businesses with less than $10 million in annual reported revenues, were down 6.4 percent (see the full report). That was a significant decline from the previous year, when 2008 fourth-quarter sales increased 2.4 percent. Pre-recessionary 2007 figures showed an increase of 5 percent. As a barometer, White said a 3-percent growth rate was “reasonable.”

“Seeing a 6-percent decline is pretty dramatic,” admitted White, who noted it was a good indicator of the degree to which small businesses have been hammered during the current recession. “It’s almost like a 10-percent differential – huge.”

White said as long as consumers refrain from spending, small businesses will continue to remain in survival mode, which likely means reductions in overhead, such as payroll and advertising.