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PD Editorial: A week of positive news for the county

Economist Chris Thornberg delivers his Sonoma County forecast.

KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 22, 2012 at 4:12 p.m.

The news from the past seven days has given Sonoma County residents plenty to smile about, and it's not all related to a certain black-and-orange baseball team.

First, we heard that Sonoma County home sales were continuing to grow along with home prices. September sales were up 4 percent from a year earlier. The median price also was up 4 percent to $357,000.

Then came the report mid-week that home foreclosures were at a five-year low. Overall, the number of homeowners who lost houses and condominiums to foreclosure during the third quarter was down 38 percent from a year ago.

Finally, Friday brought positive news on several fronts.

First, the latest jobless figures showed unemployment in Sonoma County had dropped five points to 7.6 percent, down significantly from 9.5 percent a year ago.

Meanwhile, community leaders who gathered for an economic forecast breakfast at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel Friday morning were told that the Foreign Trade Zone linked to the Port of San Francisco could be extended soon to include most of Sonoma County.

This means that Sonoma County manufacturers and those involved in exports may be able to see the duty fees they pay on imported components reduced. The long and short of this is that a trade zone designation will make it easier for manufacturers who do business here, and it will make Sonoma County more attractive for others to move here.

As Supervisor Mike McGuire noted Friday, it will allow Sonoma County to compete on a global stage.

Finally, there was the forecast itself by economist Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics, who offered as rosy an outlook as we've heard in some time.

He reported that Sonoma County has outpaced the rest of the state in terms of job growth, that the local economy was continuing to grow, buoyed by the strength of agriculture, tourism and hospitality, and that the foreclosure crisis was over.

“2013, could be a very good year,” he said.

All of this is a welcome break from the steady diet of disappointing news that the North Coast has been fed for much of the past four years.

However, there are always cautionary sides. Thornberg said he remained concerned about low construction numbers and high commercial vacancy rates in Sonoma County. He also noted that the economic recovery here and elsewhere will continue to be slowed by job losses in the public sector, which are expected to continue.

His biggest concern, however, was about the “fiscal cliff” — an economic crisis that did not exist, Thornberg said, until Congress created it. If Congress is not able to reach a compromise in time to avoid taking the country over the edge — through automatic tax increases and spending cuts — it will shock the economy into a recession, he projects, sometime around the second quarter. But he does not expect it to last long. We hope he's right.

In truth, we hope he's wrong — wrong that elected officials in Washington will even allow this to happen.

North Coast residents need to call on their elected representatives in Washington and encourage them not to allow partisan differences to put the nation's economic recovery at risk.

As Thornberg said, “The fundamental problems today are political.” In other words, the only thing we have to fear is — ourselves.

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