News Columns & Blogs

Good riddance, 2009

It’s the time of year for making promises, pledges and new starts.

It’s the time for the best of intentions and the hope of better days ahead.

As I celebrate this New Year and say goodbye to 2009, I can only believe that 2010 will bring a brighter picture for our workforce and overall economy. I sure don’t think I can handle many more stories about double-digit unemployment, record number of foreclosures and tales of empty food banks and overwhelmed nonprofits trying to cope with more demand than donations.

2009, to say the least, was one of the worst years in my lifetime for the destruction it has wrought. At times it almost seemed like we might slide into another Depression.

So I’m feeling better about 2010, or maybe hopeful is the better word. I’m thinking 2010 couldn’t possibly be as bad as 2009 and so apparently are others.

A consumer confidence report released last week showed Americans are ending the year feeling better about the economy than when the year began and believing things will get better in 2010.

But after delving more into the report’s findings, it seemed that hopeful feeling was probably based more on the time of year — a new beginning — than any hard evidence.

The survey showed fewer people plan to buy automobiles and homes in the next six months than compared with November and people in general remain downbeat about their current prospects. The confidence index was 52.9, still a long way from the 90 that would signify a solid economy.

Locally, we are dealing with a record 12.9 unemployment rate, which has been continuing upward. Nationally, November’s unemployment rate was 10 percent, down only slightly from a 26-year high in October of 10.2 percent. And analysts are predicting it could reach as high as 10.5 percent by the summer.

Our foreclosures locally also hit a new high in 2009 — more than 6,000, up from the 5,592 in 2008.

But despite the negative indicators of still some tough times ahead, I can’t help but think that changes start with having the right attitude. I accept there will be more bumps in the road but refuse to believe they will turn into sinkholes. There will be clouds and some rain but no tornadoes or hurricanes.

There are some lights on the horizon. Manatee’s home sales continue to improve and activity has gone from lackluster to almost brisk. Sales of existing single-family homes and condominium units in the Bradenton/Sarasota market and the rest of Florida surged in November. More federal stimulus money is coming into local coffers. Port Manatee will receive nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money for security improvements and the county bus system is getting $4.61 million.

So I’ll continue to look forward to 2010 and what it will bring. Here’s hoping for less hunkering down and more steps in the right direction.

Jennifer Rich, Herald business editor, can be reached at 745-7087.