If you had to name one event or phenomenon that defined 2011, what would it be?

Newspapers and other media outlets across the globe will attempt to put into context and rank the occurrences of the past year.

It's not a new concept.

On one hand, they're genuinely attempting to provide a source for reflection upon earth's solar orbit recently passed. On the other, it's a fairly convenient way to generate copy during a holiday season that too often overburdens news staff, who are on the hook to keep up with increased page counts due to increased holiday advertising inches - the latter having overburdened the newspaper's advertising staff. It's a circle-of-life thing.

We're no different, on both counts.

We differ from many efforts, however, in that we provide real news, albeit briefly, on past stories that too often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of a regular news week.

It's impossible to consider the past year without addressing the fatal shooting of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter, the one-year anniversary of which we'll soon observe on Jan. 5. An 8 p.m. vigil is planned at Rainier City Park on the anniversary day of Painter's death.

Last week Daniel A. Butts, the Kalama, Wash., man accused of fatally shooting Painter, appeared in Columbia County Circuit Court for a two-day hearing to assess whether he is mentally competent to aid and assist in his trial. Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove is expected to render a decision on Butts' competency in early January.

There is some satisfaction to be gained watching the wheels of justice grind forward. It's a long process, and we'll stay on top of the story as much as resources allow.

Another story that too often dominated the news in 2011 has been the roller-coaster stock market and volatile economy - globally, nationally and locally.

We've heard from many local business owners who are struggling to stay open. In one interview with a Scappoose business owner, she said she has never experienced such financial struggle as she had heading into this year's holiday shopping season. On Thursday before the Christmas weekend, we talked to a service-industry business owner who said she was closing her operation, which has only been servicing Columbia County for about eight months. We've heard of too many local businesses with similar tales.

And, as an industry that depends predominately on a vibrant marketplace that is enthusiastic about advertising and promoting its goods and services, we, too, have taken our lumps in 2011 as revenue remains largely stagnant and costs continue to move skyward. Our challenges are inspiring us to be more strategic about resource allocation to ensure we continue to deliver the quality journalism and advertising product you expect and deserve.

We all must continue such efforts, whether our workplace is in the private or public sector. Fact is, 2012 doesn't hold a lot of promise for a return to pre-recession glory days.

Goldman Sach's Chief Economist Jan Hatzius predicts the U.S. economy at the start of 2012 to be slightly less robust than the last quarter of 2011, due largely to fallout from the European debt crisis. A slight uptick is anticipated in the second half of the year, Hatzius says, and the U.S. should be out of harm's way in terms of sliding back into recession. Also, the housing market is generally believed to be at the bottom of the price scale, perhaps even slightly undervalued from a long-term perspective. Unemployment, on the other hand, is likely to stay high, Hatzius says.

His forecast is available for viewing at:

The year 2011 wasn't all doom and gloom. In Scappoose, completion of the Havlik Road crossing led to the development of new businesses, notably Les Schwab and Goodwill. And there are signs of more business development to come.

Recycling company ORPET broke ground on its $10 million bottle recycling plant in St. Helens, promising as many as 50 new jobs in the near term. And to the north, at Port Westward, JH Kelly Holdings is nearing re-start of its ethanol plant. Though corn ethanol is a controversial fuel, and there are questions about its effectiveness toward reducing our dependence on carbon-based fuels, efforts toward re-firing the Columbia Pacific Biorefinery plant have resulted in 71 new jobs in Columbia County. That's good employment news for the area.

Another positive occurrence has been the Oregon Department of Transportation's acknowledgement of the dangers associated with navigating Highway 30 between Scappoose and St. Helens. The state agency in 2011 designated a four-mile stretch on Highway as one of the state's 13 safety corridors. Our hope is the designation leads to increased awareness of the hazards and, ultimately, improved motorists' safety on Highway 30.

There is much more to feel positive about when we reflect on 2011 - the successes of local sports teams and a Columbia County woman, Mackenzie Carr of Vernonia, recently named Miss Rodeo America, to name a few. We look forward to many more such achievements in 2012.

Have a safe and happy New Year.

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