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A light in the tunnel after three dark years

by: Stover E. Harger III OPENING — Justin Bush, Scappoose Les Schwab Tire Center store manager stands outside the new shop four days before it was set to open.

To some it might seem overly optimistic to make the assertion we are on the cusp of an economic rebound.

Before going too far, we recognize there is folly in making any frank statement about the economy without hedging in some way or another. Too often we've seen short-term trends reverse on a dime, and not even the most astute economic experts seem to have a good fix on long-term prospects.

As highlighted several times in The Spotlight over the past few weeks, there is significant doubt regarding the health of public sector employers - county, state and federal governments are all in a cash-flow crunch vis-a-vis current services.

The European debt crisis is troubling, and on Monday credit-rating agency Standard and Poor's placed 15 sovereign European nations on notice of a revised negative outlook due to lingering doubts - political, economic, etc. - the eurozone partners can remedy the flagging economy. In fact, S and P predicted a 40 percent probability of a fall in output across all of the eurozone, not just the imperiled countries of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, and the risk of a recession is rising.

Some analysts are concerned the European crisis would serve as a drag on the U.S. economy, and undoubtedly there would be an effect that is difficult to calculate at this time.

But if we look at national and local current events, there is a lot to feel positive about. National and local unemployment is creeping downward. November experienced a reversal of seasonally adjusted consumer confidence following a six-month trend of declines. New businesses, including Les Schwab, Fultano's Pizza and Goodwill, have signaled openings in Scappoose. In each case, those businesses will hire new personnel - 16 employees in the case of Les Schwab - who in turn will benefit from income to be distributed within the local economy. Not to mention the construction boon that is occurring near Havlik Road and Second Street.

Remember: these are just some of the outcomes resulting from federal stimulus spending that financed construction of the Havlik Road crossing.

Perhaps of even more significance, each of those businesses represents a franchise model that has, in the background, a strong market research component. They are not opening haphazardly, and instead there is some confidence to be gained from the fact those successful businesses are betting on Scappoose, and south Columbia County, to be a hotspot for growth and prosperity.

As we close in on the three-year anniversary of Boise Inc.'s layoff of 300 people at its St. Helens mill, it's important to take stock of our local position, from a community and business perspective.

In this edition, we highlight a start-up paper business, called Oregon Paper Co., that uses Boise Cascade as one of its suppliers of parent paper rolls. Oregon Paper Co. employs a strong regional supplier base, and is steadily growing as an employer. Also on the horizon is the promise of the ORPET bottle recycling plant in St. Helens, which has a short- and mid-term outlook of 50 family-wage jobs.

There is still much work to be done and a long way to go before we can move forward with a reasonable degree of economic confidence, and without doubt there will be victories and setbacks along the way.

But there are signs we're moving in a positive direction, and for that reason we feel a measure of confidence.