It’s been a long couple of years since folks in El Paso County have bought houses and new cars. They put it off and saved their money instead.

Now, there are signs that people are ready to spend, said Fred Crowley, Southern Colorado Economic Forum senior economist.

The El Paso County economy showed its strongest growth in two years, and it did so without artificial effects like home-buying incentive programs or reinvestment job act money, Crowley said. This time, the economy showed improvement all on its own, he said.

The forum released its quarterly update this week with some good news, including strong increases in single family home sales, increases in car sales and increases in wages.

“All of these are really strong indicators,” Crowley said.

The local economy is doing better than predicted, he said. Some of the increases are due to the normal inventory adjustment correction. But, the real increases are simply a result of spending.

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Single family permit activity was higher in 10 of the last 12 months, the report said.  And, home prices are heading up – an indicator that the housing market is on its way to becoming stable, something that did not exist in the last two years. Colorado Springs could see a return to normal pricing within a year, Crowley said. That’s much better than cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, which are looking at another five to 10 years before a return to normal, he said.

“First and foremost, single family houses are up 30 percent,” Crowley said. “This is a huge number.”

Regional manufacturing showed strong gains with a 22.7 percent increase since the recession. And, consumer sentiment is up 9 percent since the recession after a roller-coaster ride through the Arab Spring, Japan earthquake and a stint where gasoline reached $4 a gallon.

And, there was good news for the city – sales taxes were up 7 percent in December. A report released by the city this week showed that sales-and-use tax collections for 2011 were 1.1 percent higher than projections, but still about $4 million below 2007, when tax revenue was at its peak.

Overall, the city’s sales tax collections for the year were up almost 4 percent, Crowley said. That’s good, he said, but an area to be concerned about is the loss of businesses to surrounding communities such as Falcon, Fountain and Monument.

“The local economy is much stronger that I thought it would be,” he said. “Overall, the news is very positive.”