Biz week

Challenges ahead

The economy has some some bright spots and some troubling areas, the state’s chief economist told members of the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County. Arun Raha said he’s worried about construction, real estate sales and regional banks. He’s not so worried about auto sales and the stock market. Raha, the keynote speaker at the council’s annual breakfast, said the economy is clearly improving. But he said he’s concerned about whether we’ll see enough sustained improvement to keep the economy from slipping again. A key concern was for regional banks, which have been hard hit by the real estate slump. He said local banks are the primary money lender for small business. We need small businesses to grow to add jobs to the economy, Raha added.

Unemployment climbs: The jobless rates in Snohomish County and throughout the state rose significantly in December. The county’s rate climbed from an adjusted 9.5 percent in November to 10.3 percent last month, a 0.8 percent rise. The state rate rose 0.5 percent to 9.5 percent. Officials said part of the uptick in the numbers could come from long-time unemployed workers returning to the job market as the economy improves. People not actively seeking work are typically not counted among the unemployed.

SBA loans increase: Small Business Administration loans in the region climbed by 37 percent late last year. Monetarily, the growth was even stronger. A year ago, the program loaned $79.1 million. Last month, the SBA loans in the area totalled $146.4 million. Officials said the lending environment is still tough, but the increases show that there is money available for qualified buyers. If it continues, the growth in loans should bode well for the future, officials said.

Mike Benbow, Herald Writer