For the better part of the past four years, businesses and consumers alike have faced a constant barrage of bad news when it comes to the economy. Reports about joblessness, foreclosures, and government bailouts have seemed never ending. While it seems obvious that the downturn couldn't last forever, it sure felt like it would. Now, as we head into 2012, I think I am starting to see reasons for optimism.

There have been some positive signs in the news. Unemployment has dropped by a meaningful amount over the past 14 months and consumer confidence has begun to increase, the recently passed holiday season saw increased consumer spending, and according to recently released data, all three of the major American car companies are profitable again. All good news to be sure, but meaningless for me as a small business owner if I don't also see things improving for my company, Legacy Remodeling.

Fortunately, at least in the little corner of the remodeling market that we occupy, things do seem to be getting better. We have grown by approximately 10% in installed business versus last year. Our sales this past December were double those of a year ago and January is off to a nice start. This weekend we participated in our first home show of 2012 and there were more vendors there than in previous years and larger crowds of people. Even better, those people seemed to be feeling better. We had more conversations with folks who were planning to actually do projects in 2012 than we have had since 2007. Customers seem more willing to invest in the window, door or siding replacements that they have put off for the past few years.

Even more importantly, we have been able to start hiring again. Although the numbers are small, we are one of the millions of small business that drive the economy and if we are all able to hire one or two or three new people, as we have done, the country would be well on its way to recovery. At my company, these are good-paying, family-sustaining jobs. Even better, the kind of work we do creates more jobs. For every home improvement project we book, there is a manufacturer somewhere who needs to make the shingles, lumber or deck material that we will use.

For those people out there who have been looking at home improvement projects, now is the time to consider moving forward with that kitchen or room addition. Good remodeling companies like Legacy are already getting busy quickly. By the time the spring is here, we expect to be taking orders for projects that will be run over the summer. If you have a particular time you want your deck to be done, for a graduation party for example, now is the time to start planning for that so that its ready when you need it. Even better, by planning ahead and placing an order early, customers can avoid the annual spring price increase that comes from building product manufacturers virtually every year.