OMAHA, Neb. | Rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states are seeing continued economic growth in the region, according to a new monthly survey of bankers in the region, even as nonfarm jobs in most of those states remained below pre-pandemic levels.
The overall Rural Mainstreet economic index dropped from June’s 70.0 to a still-strong 65.6 in July. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy.
The survey’s new hiring index decreased to 67.6 in July from 71.7 in June. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed nonfarm jobs across the region came in at 55,000 fewer — or 1.3% less — than before the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey. But three states — Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota — reported nonfarm employment levels above pre-pandemic levels.
“Even in small communities like Eldora, the local businesses are having trouble finding adequate staffing,” said James Brown, CEO of Hardin County Savings Bank in Eldora, Iowa.
Goss said the region continues to benefit from growing exports, solid grain prices and continued low interest rates.
Bankers were less optimistic about the economy over the next six months than the previous month, with July’s confidence index slipping to 65.6 from June’s 71.7.
Nearly half of bankers surveyed reported damaging drought conditions for farmers in their area.
Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.