Metro's growth continued to slow ahead of 'fiscal cliff'

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Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 12:00 am

Economic growth in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area continued to slow in November, a new economic report shows, and some of that slowdown was attributed to now-resolved “fiscal cliff” issues.

Three of five components that make up the Omaha Economic Index declined from October to November.

The report from the University of Nebraska at Omaha shows a value of 1.03, just above neutral growth. That follows index values of 1.40 in October, 1.50 in September and 1.52 in August, which were among the highest seen since 1999.

“It does appear that growth has been slowing since August,” said Ken Kriz, associate professor of public finance and economics.

He compiles the index — information from Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties in Nebraska and Pottawattamie and Mills Counties in Iowa — along with Christopher Decker and Mark Wohar, both in the department of economics and real estate.

Kriz said the slowdown could lead to a turnaround early in 2013 now that new tax policies have been forged in Washington.

The components with declines in November:

» Sales of electricity to industrial and commercial customers, an indicator of business activity, fell from October and fell by 7.2 percent over the same period in 2011.

» Nonfarm payroll employment, on the rise since early 2010, was at 470,700, a decline of 1,100 jobs compared with October but still 2 percent above November 2011.

» Construction employment has leveled off after dramatic growth earlier in the year, falling by an estimated 57 jobs, adjusted for seasonal changes.

“This is a source of significant concern going into the winter of 2012-2013,” Kriz said, if it signals another extended decline in construction employment like the metro saw starting in 2008.

On the growth side, residential building permits, which have been up and down in a “sawtooth” pattern, showed an increase in November to 337 from 320 in October.

Taxable retail sales, which have shown overall growth since 2009 but in a volatile pattern, were up in October to $809.7 million from $794.5 million in September. The sales figures lag a month in the index, and this report doesn't include the holidays.

“Overall the retail market appears to be continuing to strengthen, albeit at a slower pace than in 2011,” Kriz said.

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