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(Janesville, WI) - By Jim Leute, Gazette

A year ago, Rock County closed the book on its best economic quarter in more than two years.

Fast-forward to this year, and the numbers indicate the local economy continues to get stronger, a sign that three development officials said is more than encouraging.

In short, the numbers show that more people are working, more people are buying and selling homes and cars, more money is flowing into retail cash registers and more people are keeping creditors at bay.

Since 2010, The Gazette has published a quarterly dashboard of seven indicators to provide an economic snapshot over time. The data set now includes 14 quarters dating to April 2010.

For just the second time in the dashboard's history, all seven indicators are positive when compared to the same quarter of the previous year.

In fact, retail sales, new vehicle registrations and the average prices of homes sold were at their highest levels in 14 quarters. Unemployment was at its lowest.

In addition, the number of homes sold in the third quarter of this year was the third-highest in the dashboard's history. Bankruptcy filings were at their third-lowest level, another good sign.

“I think from an overall perspective it's a function of folks feeling more confidence and stability, particularly in their personal income and wealth,” said James Otterstein, Rock County's economic development manager. “I think people are just willing to spend more money.

“I also believe it's a function of people putting off some purchases, particular in the durable goods sector, and waiting for calmer waters. Now they're making those purchases because they're more confident in their employment situation.”

Otterstein and Rock County 5.0 compile their own dashboard, the Rock Ready Index, which includes quarterly data on the workforce, real estate, sales activity and project announcements.

While that index won't be ready until next week, Otterstein expects favorable indicators once again.

John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, said the recent numbers are encouraging.

“Any real turning point is when you start to see sustainable numbers, when quarterly numbers are no longer a blip,” Beckord said. “We're seeing that now, and I really think there is strength in this recovery.”

Beckord said many local companies are growing and expanding because they're tapped into markets that are strong and getting stronger.

Sales are improving, he said, and that will ultimately lead to more jobs.

Otterstein said he gets the sense that confidence levels among local business owners, while varying by sector, are generally pretty high.

“That's not to say there isn't an extended landscape of concern,” he said, noting uncertainty over the federal health care legislation and its financial impacts, concerns in some corners about the sustainability of sales and orders and the ability to recruit and retain certain levels of talent.

“It's not all rosy, but generally we're heading in the right direction, and these indicators bear that out,” he said.

For two reasons, Beckord said he is particularly impressed with improving retail sales.

“So many people in our area depend on retail sales, so it's encouraging to see them increase,” he said. “The fact that people are spending more money also indicates a stronger level of consumer confidence.”

Bob Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, believes the improving economy is the result of community teamwork and collaboration.

“We've said all along that it's going to take time to recover,” he said. “We're beginning to see the signs of that, and we're well positioned to take advantage of a lot of opportunities.

“We've done a lot of cheerleading, a lot of working together, and now we're seeing the positive results of that.”


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Q3 2011

Q2 2011

Q1 2011

Q4 2010

Q3 2010

Q2 2010

Q1 2010

Q4 2009