Steady February hiring in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area helped keep its economy in a growth stage. But a local economic indicator shows slowdowns in other areas interfering with the metro's momentum.
The Omaha Economic Index increased slightly to .35 in February from a revised January score of .32. A score above zero signifies economic expansion, a score below zero shows the economy is shrinking.
Of the five factors measured in the indicator — nonfarm employment, taxable sales, residential and commercial building permits and industrial energy use — employment was the only area that saw gains. But they were significant gains as the metro area's nonfarm employment reached a post-recession high of 463,000.
Before the recession, the metro area's number of employed workers was about 470,000. During the recession, the employed hit a low of 453,000 in February 2010.
University of Nebraska at Omaha economist Ken Kriz said it would have been hard for the local economy to mirror the success it had in January, which posted "relatively high" numbers.
"I think (the local economy) is still growing slowly," he said. "There are some signs of a leveling-off in the economy, and more of the indicators that are responsible for illustrating business expectations are slowing down."
Kriz added: "This is what tends to happen in expansions — an increase then a leveling-off. Then another increase and a leveling-off."
The Omaha Economic Index measures local economic activity for five counties: Douglas, Sarpy and Washington in Nebraska, and Pottawattamie and Mills in Iowa. Kriz developed the index with UNO colleagues Christopher Decker and Mark Wohar to provide a previously unavailable monthly snapshot of the metro area's economy.
In February, Omaha-area shoppers spent significantly less as retail sales dropped to $794 million for the month from $819 million, but the figure still represented the highest amount ever recorded in February, Kriz said.
Commercial and industrial electrical sales, an estimation of manufacturing output, were down, and lower than they were a year ago, but remained in normal range, Kriz said.
Residential and commercial building permits have been up and down since the recession. In February, both were down slightly, but up from a year ago.
Looking ahead, Kriz said the March and April OEI will provide a clearer picture of whether the Omaha area is poised for a slowdown or whether the summer months are due for economic growth.
"We're kind of waiting to see what happens," Kriz said. "I think it's going to be an interesting read in March and April because it's going to tell us more about the momentum of the economy through the summer."
Contact the writer: 402-444-1414, email@example.com, twitter.com/rossboettcher