What to say about 2009? How about this: it ended on a high note for the overall economy, and that is good for the citizens of this country and this region.
Here’s a sampling of the business news that bodes well for the coming year. A report released Jan. 4 from the Commerce Department shows that the U.S. manufacturing sector grew in November at its fastest pace in four years. That was the fifth consecutive month of growth for the U.S. manufacturing sector.
Overall, the economy is beginning to grow. Fourth quarter figures are not tabulated yet, but the U.S. economy grew by 2.2 percent in the third quarter (July through September 2009). That news came on the heels of four consecutive quarters of a shrinking economy, the worst four-quarter performance since the 1930s.
We’re still losing jobs, but that may end soon. Economists expect data released this week to show that about 8,000 jobs were lost in December after 11,000 were eliminated in November. In the first quarter of 2009, the U.S. economy was shedding about 500,000 jobs a month, so businesses large and small seem to have reached their new employment level.
Although there are still many weak areas — particularly construction spending, which has fallen to its lowest level since July 2003 — overall this economy feels like it is moving forward. In Haywood County, four of the last five months have seen an increase in the number of houses sold — year over year — and an increase in the dollar value of those homes. As houses move and the backlog of available properties decreases, that should lead to a corresponding increase in construction spending. Similar increases, slight though some of them are, are being reported in other Western North Carolina counties.
The stock market is making up for the losses of the last couple of years, and the Federal Reserve has made a point of saying interest rates are going to remain low.
Here’s why the economic news is good for everyone. First, families and individuals will feel the benefit as the rising tide lifts almost all ships. As those still employed feel more secure in their jobs and as some employers even make new hires, these people can plan ahead for their family’s well being rather than continue living paycheck to paycheck. Those who have dropped health insurance or quit saving for their retirement or their kids’ college can once again look to the future and put a few bucks away.
Small businesses, brutalized over the last couple of years, may finally have the funds to begin making purchases and getting caught up on the debt accumulated from just staying alive. The economic benefits from these small companies becoming confident can lift entire communities.
And as families and small businesses get better off, tax revenues to local, state and federal coffers will increase. Many detest taxes of every kind, but we also believe that quality public schools, community colleges and universities, well-maintained law enforcement and rescue departments, the continued delivery of social services and public healthcare services, and a strong public sector make for a stronger economy and stronger communities. Government at all levels needs money, and as the business climate brightens so do the prospects for government workers and all the public services that help make this country such a unique place.
We don’t want a return to the falsely inflated economy of two years ago. What we need is a slow, steady turnaround that rewards those with good habits, fosters a healthy business climate and provides opportunity for those willing to work for it. The beginning of 2010 points to just such a scenario.