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Our Views: Rock County economic indicators worth celebrating

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July 24, 2014

In Wisconsin's volatile political climate, Democrats and Republicans alike glom onto the latest grim or good economic reports to suggest their policies and proposed ways forward are best.

For example, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin stated in a news release last Friday that Gov. Scott Walker continues to underfund technical colleges and job-training programs while  Wisconsin ranks dead last in the Midwest for job growth. The release cited statistics that show Wisconsin has fallen to 35th nationwide in job growth, down from 11th when Walker took office.

Walker countered Monday by touting a new Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce survey in which business leaders predict “steady economic and job growth.” Executives believe statewide economic growth through year's end should lead to hiring. The survey shows 71 percent of business leaders see moderate growth the next six months, compared to 65 percent from the January survey. Executives who said they plan to hire this year grew to 56 percent from 44 percent in January.

Politicians across the spectrum seize such reports and often twist them to their advantage. They downplay the fact that the national economy drives Wisconsin's financial future far more than anything elected leaders do in Madison.

Meanwhile, in Rock County, a new report continues to boost hopes that those bleak days that started in 2008 are falling further back in the rearview mirror. The Gazette last Sunday released its latest Rock County economic dashboard. Five years ago, this newspaper started this quarterly look at seven indicators to provide a snapshot of local economic health. It's striking that all seven indicators for the second quarter show improvements from those compiled in the same quarter of 2013.

Retail and home sales, average prices of homes sold and registrations of new vehicles all rose. Bankruptcy and foreclosure filings and unemployment declined. Perhaps the improvement in that last indicator is most significant, even startling. Joblessness in May 2013 stood at 8 percent but fell to 6.5 percent by this May.

This dashboard presents facts. Our report isn't twisted or distorted by politicians seeking to curry favor with voters as we hurtle toward the Nov. 4 general elections. Sure, some might argue that the jobless rate has fallen that far because many people have given up hope of finding jobs and no longer count in the statistics. Granted, that could be a factor.

Nonetheless, taken collectively, the seven indicators show we're steering in the right direction. Elected local leaders and economic development officials, particularly those involved in the public-private Rock County 5.0 initiative, deserve credit for toiling tirelessly. They often work behind the scenes and get little credit. They, and all county residents, should celebrate the numbers in this latest economic dashboard. Growth here is slow but steady.

All should realize, however, that the goal remains elusive and some distance down the road. In this era beyond those decades when the auto industry drove Rock County's fortunes, plenty of work remains before we clear the rough road to tomorrow's smoother, more diversified economy.



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