Welcome to Good News & Bright Ideas, a new feature aimed at showcasing the brighter side of the current economic climate. While few would argue that business today is more challenging than ever before, successful companies are finding innovative ways to meet the bottom line while making inroads toward long-term growth. The section will highlight their stories, as well as news briefs that point toward a larger recovery in the housing market and the economy.

Realtors say home sales on the rise

The National Association of Realtors reported that existing-home sales increased by 5.1 percent in February, to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.72 million units. According to the group, first-time buyers accounted for half of all home sales, with activity concentrated in lower price ranges.

While the national median existing-home price dropped 15.5 percent to $165,400 from last year, Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said the West is already seeing “a stronger than expected” recovery.

“Strong sales gains in the West are led by California, where the median listing price is beginning to rise for the first time in three years,” he said.

NAR also reported that pending home sales rose 2.1 percent in February, hinting “at a possible pickup of sales activity in coming months,” the association said.

Some economists believe economy will bounce back soon

As reported on CNN.com in April, a growing number of economists believe the economy has already “hit bottom” and will begin showing rapid signs of improvement. Economists point to home sales and stock prices picking up as signs that the worst may be behind us.

One economist noted that these promising signs have appeared even before the stimulus package has gone into effect. “Stimulus has a much better chance of working if trends are already turning up,” he said.

Beaulieu of America CEO Ralph Boe (front) leads his staff on a walk as part of the company’s Million Mile Challenge.

Beaulieu rallies staff to walk one million miles

Beaulieu of America CEO Ralph Boe recently issued a challenge to his staff: walk a collective one million miles by January 2010. So far, associates have logged almost 23,000 miles, but Boe said he is confident his staffers can reach the goal. “I’ve reminded them that they’ll enjoy a healthier body and better quality of life for the effort, plus we’ll get an opportunity to lower our health insurance premiums,” he said. “That’s a pretty good motivator.” “They say exercise is a good stress reliever,” he added. “The timing couldn’t be better.”

Labor Department reports slight dip in new jobless claims

The Labor Department reported that new jobless claims fell slightly last month. Additionally, the four-week average of claims fell to 657,250, the first drop-off reported after 11 months of increases in a row. According to NPR.org, the change in the four-week average is considered by many economists to be a reliable indicator of potential economic growth.

Do you have good news or bright ideas you’d like to share? Send an e-mail toChmieleckiM@bnpmedia.com.