Survey suggests more economic growth for Midwest, Plains

A March survey of business supply managers is signaling solid economic growth over the next three to six months for nine Midwest and Plains states, although the survey report released Monday said Midwest flooding has harmed some companies.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index hit its highest level since August, 58.2, compared with 57.9 in February. The January figure was 56.0.

"As in recent months, international trade tension/tariffs and the global economic slowdown remain obstacles to even stronger growth," said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.

Also, about 22 percent of the supply managers who responded reported that their companies were "experiencing negative impacts from recent floods," Goss said. Flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries has caused at least $3 billion in damage and contributed to at least three deaths.

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth. A score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The employment picture remained positive despite a lower March figure: 56.4, compared with 59.0 in February.

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"Overall manufacturing employment growth in the region over the past 12 months has been very healthy and exceeded that of the nation," Goss said. "However, overall employment growth for the region over the past 12 months at 0.5 percent is well below national job growth of 1.5 percent."

About 10 percent of businesses reported layoffs in March while 64 percent reported new hiring.

Economic optimism slipped to a still solid 57.2 in March from February's 58.8, the report said.

"However, I expect business confidence to depend heavily on trade talks with China, as well as U.S. economic growth in the weeks and months ahead," Goss said.

Minnesota's overall index

The overall index ranges between 0 and 100. Growth neutral is 50, and a figure greater than 50 indicates growth in that factor over the next three to six months.

Minnesota's overall index declined slightly to 53.0 in March from 53.4 in February. Index components were new orders at 55.7, production or sales at 54.6, delivery lead time at 56.5, inventories at 50.9 and employment at 51.3. Minnesota exported $540.1 million in agriculture commodities last year — a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels. "In 2018, the export of agriculture commodities produced $1.6 billion in overall economic activity in the state, supporting a total of 7,500 jobs," said Ernie Goss, economics professor at Creighton University.