The Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area rode the strength of its low unemployment rate to third place in a new economic index measuring the health of 102 major metropolitan-area economies.
The On Numbers Economic Index, published for the first time this week by a division of American City Business Journals, found that of the ranked metro areas, the top eight, including Omaha, fall within a continental triangle that originates at three points — Houston, Pittsburgh and Denver.
Omaha's unemployment rate of 4.7 percent was “the best among all 102 metros,” wrote G. Scott Thomas, the author of the index report.
While Omaha has fared well in numerous economic and business rankings from various sources and publications, the On Numbers measure is slightly different in that it is calculated based on 18 different data points from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Federal Housing Finance Agency over a multiyear period. Most indexes consider data from month to month or year to year while the On Numbers figures consider one-year, five-year and long-term changes.
In that respect, Omaha's ranking is fair and accurate, said Eric Thompson, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Bureau of Business Research and associate professor of economics.
“I think the index, which focuses on overall employment and housing price growth, as well as retail and construction, in particular, accurately reflects that in recent years, Omaha has been a relatively strong local economy,” he said. “It's a good measure of how you've been doing the last few years.”
Of a possible 100 points, Omaha scored 78.74. The top two finishers, Oklahoma City and Austin, Texas, recorded scores of 91.042 and 85.869, respectively.
In his report, Thomas wrote that Oklahoma City rose to the top of the list primarily because of rapid earnings increases — over the last year, private-sector earnings have grown nearly 12 percent. Meanwhile, the city boasts unemployment of 4.8 percent, second only to Omaha.
Overall scores are based on the following criteria over the one-year, five-year, and long-term periods: changes in private-sector employment; weekly earnings per private sector worker; retail-sector employment; and home value changes.
Compared with other Top 10 cities, Omaha's score had some significant holes. Of the seven metros that ranked behind Omaha in the Top 10, seven boasted higher earnings per worker and five-year earnings growth, while four posted better one-year private sector growth, and one- and five-year earnings growth.
For example, Little Rock, Ark., the 10th-place metro area, beat Omaha in four categories — earnings per worker, five- and one-year earnings growth, and five-year home values — but had an unemployment rate of 7 percent.
Versus the top two, Oklahoma City and Austin, Omaha lagged in both one-year and five-year private sector growth, home values, average earnings per worker, and earnings growth, according to the index.
But Omaha's unemployment rate, a major factor in the total score, helped make up for those shortcomings.
Thompson said the index might not be best reported on a month-to-month basis, as Thomas plans, but rather quarterly or “a few times a year.”
“Really, it's less a measure of how we've been doing lately and really it's comparing growth over the last year or five years,” Thompson said. “I think it's a nice thing, to compare Omaha relative to its peers.”
Top 10 metro areas and their scores
|1. Oklahoma City||91.042|
|2. Austin, Texas||85.869|
|7. Columbus, Ohio||74.656|
|8. Tulsa, Okla.||74.432|
|10. Little Rock, Ark.||71.338|
Source: On Numbers Economic Index for September
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