Things are looking up.
It's almost scary to say it, but signs are popping up all over that the economy is starting to make the long, slow turn away from the ditch and back toward the middle of the road. We're not talking the fast lane, mind you, but maybe the on-ramp.
Knock on wood.
This week ends with good news on several fronts.
- Local banks and credit unions are reporting good gains in income and membership, reflecting a big drop in bad loans and a movement by consumers to flee the huge financial institutions that got us into this mess in favor of smaller, hometown businesses.
- Speaking of huge financial institutions, five of the nation's largest home-mortgage lenders reached a $26 billion settlement that will help some 2 million homeowners who are underwater on their home loans. While that's only a fraction of the people who actually need help, it's a beginning of a thaw in the big lenders' glacial response to the mortgage crisis, and it represents real relief to some homeowners. Just the fact that the settlement requires lenders to designate one point of contact for each borrower — rather than forcing them to navigate through phone-tree hell each time they call — represents a big step forward. The settlement secures $18 billion for California, with about $335 million earmarked for Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, according to the state Attorney General's Office.
- Tourists continue to flock to Sonoma County, opening their wallets to the tune of more than $1.2 billion in spending every year. The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau reported this week that tourism was up 15 percent in 2011 and is expected to jump another 5 percent this year. And besides pumping all that money into the local economy, the 7 million people who visit each year support 16,000 jobs.
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average is flirting with 13,000, a quarter-million jobs were added in January, private investment is trending upward.
There are plenty of things to worry about, to be sure. Governments are swimming in red ink. Greece and the European Union are in crisis. The Dow is down 135 points as I write this on Friday morning.
But I choose to see the glass as half-full. After all, it even rained a little bit today.