Thumbs up/down for Monday, Jan. 6, 2014

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Thumbs up to Rock County retail sales. When all figures are tallied, retail sales in 2013 may have set a record. That says much about how far the local economy has come since the recession and since retail sales hit the bottom in 2010. Projections were that if retailers enjoyed only average sales in December, the year's total would be around $2.1 billion, an increase of 2.3 percent compared to 2008. John Beckord, Forward Janesville president, says that unlike surveys, retail sales are an actual gauge of real consumers and indicate growing confidence. Beckord says the stock market's growth allows retirees to spend more money. Other economic indicators also are improving, including home sales and prices, new vehicle registrations and jobless numbers. All bode well for the county's economic future.

Thumbs up to rising Walworth County tourism. A new study by a Pennsylvania company says visitor spending in Walworth County rose more than 11 percent since 2011, more than double the statewide increase. That's great because Walworth ranks sixth among the state's 72 counties in tourism spending. As Wisconsin struggles to create jobs, tourism is robust and puts people to work. Last year, visitor spending in Walworth County generated more than $600 million in sales and helped sustain more than 6,500 jobs. Tourism also pads government coffers through taxes. Walworth County and its attractive communities around Geneva Lake have long been playgrounds for wealthy Chicagoans. A state grant the county received in the fall of 2012 helped attract Chicago-area residents during winter. No doubt it was a wise investment.

Thumbs down to the postage rate increase. The Postal Regulatory Commission played Grinch to all mail customers on Christmas Eve. That's when it approved a hike in postage rates—supposedly temporary—that's more than triple the rate of inflation. The increases likely begin Jan. 26. The commission and U.S. Postal Service differ on whether the Great Recession or Internet diversion are to blame for the loss of 53 billion pieces of mail. Regardless, as National Newspaper Association President Robert M. Williams Jr. noted, the rate increase solves nothing. Absent reducing core postal service costs, fewer and fewer customers will pay more and more. Newspapers that deliver by mail and were themselves rocked by the recession will absorb increases of up to 7 percent. Congress could ease the bloodletting by dropping the mandate that the postal service spend $5.5 billion annually to pre-fund retiree health benefits. Customers paying ever-higher costs are right to wonder why the postal service is the only federal agency required to do so.

Thumbs up to Santo Carfora. This former Craig High School teacher is one of our community's gems. While at Craig, he took members of the Human Relations Club to Atlanta so they could walk in the steps of Martin Luther King Jr. Now retired, he continues to serve our community. He has long helped build understanding between races and cultures as a key member of the local Diversity Action Team. Carfora, 67, was named the American Red Cross Western Wisconsin Region's December 2013 Volunteer of the Month. The award is only a couple of months old, but it's not surprising that the Red Cross saw fit to recognize Carfora so quickly. As a volunteer client caseworker, he has helped provide food, water and other basic needs to disaster victims. He appreciates the honor and says he's humbled by it, but he hopes news of his efforts encourage others to volunteer. That's what we would expect from this compassionate man.

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