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Sporting a baseball glove and a San Francisco Giants cap, Supervisor Shirlee Zane did her best Hunter Pence-like pep talk in front of some 450 community leaders Friday.

"We are coming back in a big way, in a Giant way," she said at the annual fall economic forecast breakfast.

It was a noble effort. My only quibble is that she compared Sonoma County to Tim Lincecum, which, coming after Thursday's game, was probably not what many in the crowd wanted to hear. They wanted something more — how should I put it — assuring.

Well, they got it.

Before I go on, I first want to take you back nearly four years to another economic outlook breakfast, this one in Rohnert Park. It had to be one of the gloomiest ever held in the county. There was little joking. Few smiles. And when the speaker, an economist, told the crowd that home prices in Sonoma County had already dropped 40 percent "twice the national average," the only thing you could hear was a long slow whistle from somewhere in the crowd. Like a bomb dropping.

But on Friday, it was a far different story. There were no bombs, except for maybe some of the jokes. There was such good humor that someone seated in the hall at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel might have thought a Rotary meeting had broken out. The reason is Sonoma County was finally hearing some things it's been waiting to hear for some time.

Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics in Los Angeles, an engaging guy who has done this for nearly 10 years, started by acknowledging all the "doom and gloom" about the economy amid this election season. He called it "totally overblown."

"Folks, the economy is fixing itself," he said.

The national economy has been accelerating of late. Although the recovery has been slow, it has been steady. Private-sector growth as a percent of GDP has averaged 3.2 percent in the past two years. The average from 1995 to 2007 was 3.4 percent, he noted.

From there, the news only got better. And this was coming from the guy who was once known as "Dr. Doom" for his accurate predictions of what would happen with the housing market. Here are five other top quotes from Friday:

"The fundamental problems today are political."

In other words, the greatest challenges facing the country are not economic. Consumer spending nationally is 71 percent of GDP. "It has never been higher," he said. Meanwhile, credit is flowing.

The main reason the recovery has not been greater is because of the shrinking public sector, which is likely to continue for a while.

Although he calls the federal deficit a "travesty," he notes that neither the government's spending problems nor the tax system are constraints on growth. "Taxes are as low as they have been in the last 50 years." he said. Thornberg said there's "very little evidence" of the relationship between lower tax rates and long-term economic growth.

Yes, economic problems overseas will continue to threaten to knock the nation off track. But the worst of Europe's problems may be over. "2013 could be a very good year," he said.

"Solid growth across the board in Sonoma County."

This county had the fastest growth rate of any metropolitan area in the state last year, he said. Employment in Sonoma County increased 4.8 percent over the past 12 months, about twice that of the rest of the state.

The county also learned Friday that its jobless rate fell seven points to 7.6 percent in September, the biggest drop in 36 years.

The news for the state is also generally positive, Thornberg said. California posted the third-fastest job growth rate in the nation this year. Meanwhile, state unemployment dropped from 10.6 to 10.2 percent in September.

He said he remains concerned about high commercial vacancies here in the county. But he said that once the SMART train is operating, the county airport is expanded and the county's new foreign trade zone status kicks in, "I tell you the jobs will come up, and you will fill that space."

"The foreclosure crisis is over — finally."

The best news of the day. He said there are many homeowners who are still under water but demand is so great that a good portion of those are ending up as short sales. As reported earlier this week, foreclosure activity in Sonoma County was at its lowest level in nearly five years.

"There is no second wave" of foreclosures, Thornberg said. "There is no shadow. It's a myth. ... It's a fantastic time to buy."

"It's not a fiscal cliff. It's a fiscal hill."

Although the nation's debt problems are significant, "we don't have a crisis," he said. Nevertheless, Congress has created one. Unless a compromise is reached by year end, the nation will see an automatic boost in taxes and massive cuts in spending, especially in defense. This will likely push the nation into recession in the second quarter, he said.

But he does not expect it to last long, primarily because those in Congress will be pressured "to stop being a partisan hack and go out and find a solution," he said.

"Education is an investment, not an expense."

Finally, Thornberg offered this in reference to Propositions 30 and 38, both of which prevent more devastating cuts to education.

Overall we are a nation that is "over consuming and ... undertaxed," he said.

"We are just going to have to pay more in taxes," he said.

Granted, that's probably the one thing some people don't want to hear. But given the rest of the message on Friday, it seems to be a small price to keep the good news coming — in a Giant way.

(Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson @pressdemocrat.com.)

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