Christmas Day ó itís here at last! ó brings a sudden stop to the frantic pace most Americans have been experiencing for more than a month. The shopping is done, or at least, itís too late to work those lists now, and the presents are wrapped and under the tree, ready to be opened. Dinner is simmering, and families will be gathering around the dining room table soon. The holiday trips that were anticipated for so long are under way.

Thereís time to pause and take stock.

For Christians, itís a day for rejoicing and reflection over the birth of a savior. For everyone, itís a day for counting blessings, material or otherwise.

For everything else it is, the Christmas season is also a measuring stick for the economy. The December shopping period is a reflection of how much consumers are willing to spend ó or to borrow ó to buy presents for family, friends and themselves. It is not only an indicator of how well people are doing financially, but also how much confidence they have in the future of their local economies, and more specifically how secure they are in their jobs.

Christmas is the season of giving, and the local economy continues to grant wishes as never before.

The year is ending with many area cities enjoying solid percentage increases in sales tax receipts, evidence that the retail segment of the economy is still sound. It will be several more weeks ó probably in February ó before the state will provide retail sales statistics for the holiday shopping season, but the most recent figures are encouraging.

A more stable indicator of economic strength can be found in employment data, and Brown County along with the seven counties surrounding it have numbers that are also worth bragging about. Unemployment rates continue to track below that of not only the nation, but also the state, and development experts have the happy challenge of training workers for skilled jobs. Work is available for those who want it.

As jobs are being created in the area, it is important to remember that the local economy is quite diverse, a situation that provides insulation from cycles in one or two areas.

Unfortunately, the benefits of prosperity have not been uniformly shared. But for those who are willing and able, the opportunity to succeed and the positive business climate are certainly in place. Meanwhile, those who have been blessed with plenty have been generous with their giving to programs like Toys for Kids, Good Samaritan Ministries, Salvation Army and other local entities.

The best present Brown County residents have this Christmas Day ó and on any day ó is their neighbors, the people who care and who share, and who not only make this part of Texas home, but who also make it truly feel like home to so many.

Merry Christmas!

Brownwood Bulletin