December 12, 2001 11:00 pm

The Sept. 11 attacks, higher utility costs and the economy are all said to be having an effect on the Christmas shopping season. Economic prognosticators are assuming that retailers will experience a lackluster season. In light of these forecasts, we all need to what we can, whats within our budgets, to help rekindle optimism among our local retailers and each other. And we can do that by spending most of our holiday shopping dollars right here in Northeast Oregon.

Those same gloom-and-doom economic prognosticators are assuming that fears generated by the Sept. 11 attacks will have people venturing out less and going online more to do their shopping. Going online to buy goods make sense if the product is one you cant find locally. But contributing to the bottom line of a company located somewhere else in the country does nothing for the local business community, and in fact hurts it because the dollars arent being spent locally, where the money recirculates.

Retail businesses depend on the Christmas season. Some of them earn from one-third to half of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season. If sales are off, money for restocking shelves, for hiring employees, for buying groceries, for paying business and living expenses will be off, too. That doesnt bode well for the retail health in a community.

If youre like most of us, you still have plenty of things to buy to complete those Christmas lists. If we take the time to look, well discover that most of the goods any of us could want are available in Union and Wallowa counties, from stocking stuffers to jewelry to the big-ticket items. The sticker prices on some things might be a little lower in Portland, Boise or the Tri-Cities, but the little bit of savings we might see in retail prices arent likely to cover the cost of the trip to get to one of those so-called

shopping hubs.

We shouldnt let the despair that seems to be gripping the country get to our little neck of the woods. Yes, the terrorist attacks were terrible. The economic downturn that much of the country is experiencing is severe. But overall, Northeast Oregon is riding the storm.

Sure, weve had to endure a significant jump in the cost of electricity and natural gas over the past year or so, and that takes a toll on the household budget. But we havent been hit by lots of layoffs. Our unemployment rate is one of the best in the state, and some things are happening on the economic development front that could bring more jobs to our region.

We can show the economic naysayers that were determined to not let this prescribed season of despair get to us. We can do this by turning our desire to stay closer to home into a commitment to help our community.

Helping our local economy helps us all.