Supply chain, employment issues remain, but survey shows region’s economy strong

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A new monthly survey shows the economy in nine Midwest and Plains states — including Arkansas — roaring back to life in the wake of a devastating global pandemic, with the survey’s overall index soaring to its highest reading since it began almost three decades ago.

The Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions Index for April released Monday climbed into a range indicating very strong growth for the next three to six months. The region’s index score came in at 73.9 from March’s 68.9.

Any score above 50 on the survey’s indexes suggests growth, while a score below 50 suggests recession.

In Arkansas, manufacturing jobs and wages are higher compared with figures from before the pandemic.

“Compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arkansas manufacturing employment is higher by 900 jobs, or 0.6 percent, while average hourly manufacturing wages are 2.6 percent higher,” said Ernie Goss, Ph.D., director of Creighton University’s Economic Forecasting Group and the Jack A. MacAllister Chair in Regional Economics in the Heider College of Business.

Creighton’s regional manufacturing activity gauge is surging, but supply bottlenecks and labor shortages continue to restrain growth.

More than nine out of 10 supply managers, or 93 percent, reported supply bottlenecks, or delays, for April with 40 percent indicating that the delays were significant.

As reported by one supply manager, “The (freezing temperatures in the south) followed by panic buying and opportunistic price increases have further stressed supply chains.”

“In March and April of last year, the region lost 106,000 manufacturing jobs. However, since bottoming in April of last year, Mid-America has added 58,000 manufacturing jobs. Creighton’s monthly survey results indicate that the region is adding manufacturing business activity at a healthy pace and that growth will remain strong well into the second half of 2021,” said Goss

The regional employment index remained above growth neutral for April, but sank from 60.0 in March to 57.2 for April.

“More than one of five, or 22 percent, of supply managers named finding and hiring qualified workers as the greatest 2021 challenge to their firm,” said Goss.

Other comments from April survey participants:

  • “Several suppliers are now on ‘allocation’ from raw metal suppliers.”
  • “Aluminum and steel supplies and prices are of particular concern now and probably through July.”
  • “Tough year for procurement.”
  • “The supply chain madness continues.”

The monthly survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Portions of this story are from the Associated Press

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