SEASIDE - The Seaside Building Department issued a substantial increase in building permits in 2010. Officials say the figures are a signal the local economy is improving, although they note the recovery will be slow.

According to figures released by the department, there were 17 new-home permits issued in 2010 compared to six in 2009.

The two new commercial building permits in 2010 matched the two issued in 2009.

The department also issued seven miscellaneous building permits in 2010, up by two from the previous year.

Seaside Planning Director Kevin Cupples said the increase in building permits is a sign of increasing consumer confidence.

"Everything had pretty much come to a stop in 2009," said Cupples. "People had put off projects and were waiting until they had more confidence in the economy and the ability to move ahead with those projects."

Several major projects that suggest an improving local economy include completion of the TLC Federal Credit Union branch office, major renovation work at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in downtown Seaside, remodeling of the former Seaside City Hall into a business complex, and continuing projects at Providence Seaside Hospital.

"I feel like there is still hope and confidence," Cupples said. "We seem to be moving slowly in the right direction."

TLC Credit Union CEO Mike Pierce echoes Cupples' optimism. "I would agree that things are moving in the right direction, but very slowly. Our investment in Seaside is reflective of that," said Pierce.

However, Pierce said, it will take several years before employment numbers improve significantly.

"We just don't have the industry that we relied on before," he said, noting that any recovery can't depend on one large industry. "We need other industries to step up.

"I do think it will be a lot of smaller industries, like those that address the health care issues of the baby boomers, (that fuel a recovery)," he said.

"At some point, we will need to bring some manufacturing back to better support the middle class," he said.

Meantime, said Cupples, financial institutions have begun lending again. "We are still in a depressed state," he said, "but maybe that lending alone has helped and may be a catalyst to making things happen."

Pierce said he, too, is keeping a close watch on lending trends. "Credit is still very tight, because no one knows exactly what's going to happen," he said. "But we are seeing some businesses picking up. And both consumer and business lending is inching its way up."

Terry Lowenberg, who owns Beach Development, a commercial property development firm in Seaside, said the increasing number of building permits is encouraging.

"We have been renting more commercial properties. We weren't for a while," said Lowenberg.

"I think we've bottomed out and are slowly rebuilding."

Still, Lowenberg said, he doesn't believe the business pace will necessarily be robust. "I don't think we will ever reach the pace we saw before the economy crashed in 2007.

"That caused the country to go into a recession," he said. "You can't sustain that kind of growth forever and it was proven by the recession."

Lowenberg added that he's encouraged by improvements in the housing market, the activity in the stock market and the location of national companies like Staples and Dollar Tree to Warrenton.

Lowenberg said he believes many local small businesses also are positioning themselves for a recovery.

"Optimism is the key word, and I am very optimistic.

"It is going to take a steady, slow growth to rebuild the economy. The more that people see that, the more confident they get."

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