Growth in the Omaha economy slowed in the late summer and fall, but the economy continued to expand and recover from the recession, according to a new Omaha Economic Index report from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Any index value above zero indicates growth, and the index values of 1.45 in October, 1.50 in September and 1.52 in August were among the highest seen since 1999.
“It’s still indicating expansion, it’s just not growing as fast as before,” said Ken Kriz, associate professor of public finance and economics, who compiles the index along with Christopher Decker and Mark Wohar, both in the department of economics and real estate.
October saw small gains in two of the five components of the index.
Nonfarm payroll employment reached a new high of 472,200, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. And electricity sales to commercial and industrial consumers rose to 612,000 megawatt hours, a gain of 2.6 percent over October 2011.
The three other factors saw declines in the October index.
Residential building permit activity has been up and down, and in October decreased to 313 permits from 339 in September.
Seasonally adjusted taxable retail sales for September totaled $792 million, a substantial drop from $832 million in August and a 1.4 percent drop from the previous year.
Construction employment, generally on the rise since May 2011, fell slightly by 24 jobs to 4,223.
Kriz said the fall in retail spending concerns him most.
“Retail sales had been tracking, year over year, 2.5 percent to 5 percent above last year, and suddenly we had this month that was below last year,” Kriz said.
He attributed the drop to worry about the national economy amid the conversation about the “fiscal cliff.”
“I really think it’s some of the uncertainties out there,” he said. “This next couple of months is going to be hugely important. That’s when most of the retailers are going to make their year.”
The total index value of 1.45 in October marked 28 consecutive months of growth for the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area, which includes Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties in Nebraska and Pottawattamie and Mills Counties in Iowa.
Kriz said the index, which was created in January 2012, is useful because it covers real economic activity, rather than future speculation, about just the Omaha economy. Other indices cover the state or the region as a whole.
“Omaha does have a different economy than the rest of the state,” he said.
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