68 posts categorized "Economic Development"

More recharging personal batteries at national parks

Even in the digital age—or maybe because of it—the great outdoors continues to be a tourism draw, as evidenced by growing visits to the country’s national parks, according to data from the National Park Service (NPS). And those visits are translating to the Ninth District economy.

Attendance has been trending upward at many parks, especially since the recession. Last year, attendance grew 6 percent among the 13 national parks in the Ninth District with annual attendance of at least 100,000, and is up almost 20 percent since 2008 (see Chart 1). In 2014, attendance at these district parks hit 9 million for the first time.

Among these large national parks in the district, two of them—Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Glacier National in Montana—are responsible for half of all visitors. (The list does not include Yellowstone, portions of which are in Montana, but which lies mostly in Wyoming.) The biggest jump in attendance last year occurred at the Apostle Island National Park. Located in Lake Superior off the northern tip of Wisconsin, it saw attendance double to almost 300,000 in 2014 thanks to an impressive formation of ice caves on the island, coupled with a uniquely long viewing period.

Those visitors are spending money and creating jobs, according to a separate NPS database. Visitor spending hit nearly $1.2 billion last year, supporting more than 20,000 jobs (see Chart 2) in district states.

National parks

Ninth District economy grew in January and February

Oil has dominated the headlines, but the Ninth District economy continued to expand in January and February, with many indicators exhibiting strength and labor markets appearing to have tightened. Several sectors, particularly energy and other commodities, are dealing with low prices. But counteractive, positive conditions for consumers and others helped limit the negative effects. Mild winter weather has had similarly mixed effects.

A wide swath of sectors saw growth. For example, a manufacturing index increased, indicating expansion in the Dakotas and Minnesota. A manufacturer of capital equipment reported that demand in January was stronger than expected. In the services sector, a merger and acquisition services firm noted increased consulting activity and a web design and programming firm noted increased interest from newer firms. In addition, railroads plan to invest more in capital equipment in 2015, and several retailers noted sales increases.

Labor markets continued to tighten, as unemployment rates dropped in many areas of the district. Business owners in South Dakota and western Montana noted difficulty finding workers to fill open positions. A Minnesota staffing firm reported that finding workers was difficult and that competition for those workers increased recently.

As labor markets have tightened, wage pressures appear to have increased in some areas. While data suggest that overall wage increases have been moderate, there were more frequent reports of wage increases above 3 percent during the past couple of months. A recent ad hoc survey by the Minneapolis Fed also found that more employers planned to increase starting pay. Nevertheless, overall wage increases generally remained moderate. Lower energy and other commodities prices affected different regions of the Ninth District.

Lower oil prices affected producers as they cut back on new development in North Dakota and Montana by nearly 30 percent from the beginning of the year, leading to reduced hours and layoffs of oilfield workers (see chart). The number of job postings in the region has also decreased, but several companies in various sectors are still looking for employees. Wage pressures and apartment rental prices have eased somewhat in the energy-producing region.

Beige book blog 3-10-15

Among other commodities, the evidence is mixed. For example, lower metal prices caused a Montana copper-silver mine to shut down. Even though iron ore prices have been dropping, an iron ore analyst expects production to increase slightly in 2015. Low crop prices have hampered farmers, but benefited animal producers due to lower feed costs.

While some sectors have suffered from lower commodity prices, district consumers have benefited. For example, Minnesota gasoline prices in mid-February were over a dollar per gallon lower than a year ago. This may have helped boost consumer spending, as district retailers noted growth in retail sales. For example, a North Dakota mall noted that sales were up in January compared with a year ago, and a bar and restaurant chain in Minnesota reported strong sales during January compared with last year. Recent light truck and car sales were relatively solid in Montana, according to a representative of an auto dealers association.

The increasing value of the dollar has made U.S. products more expensive for foreigners. For example, the stronger U.S. dollar and Canadian exchange rate dampened demand from Canadian tourists and shoppers as border crossings and related sales decreased in district states.

The winter has been relatively warm and dry, which aided commercial construction firms that were able to build more and required less heating. Ranchers benefited from less winter stress on their animals. However, not all benefited from mild weather. Several auto body shops complained they had less demand due to better driving conditions that reduced accidents. Some apparel stores had difficulty selling winter clothing due to relatively mild weather conditions during December and January. In addition, a lack of snow slowed winter tourism activity in several areas.

Ad hoc survey: Ninth District businesses plan to ramp up hiring, increase starting pay

The Ninth District economy is in growth mode and employment is expected to increase, based on a recent poll of 140 business contacts from around the district (see methodology below).

Businesses are expecting to expand, with 46 percent of respondents planning to increase employment at their firms and 58 percent of these firms citing anticipated high sales growth as the most important factor behind increased employment. Only 3 percent plan to decrease employment. In the same survey a year ago, 41 percent planned to increase employment and 9 percent planned to cut jobs (see chart).

Other important factors cited for new hiring were overworked staff, the need for additional skills and improved financial condition of firms. The vast majority of respondents plan to use current employee referrals, word of mouth and advertising to get new employees. Forty-eight percent plan to use a recruiting firm, which is up from 22 percent of respondents in last year’s poll. Twenty-seven percent of respondents also plan to raise starting pay compared with only 8 percent last year.

Feb ad hoc survey Ch1+meth -- 2-13-15

Methodology: On Dec. 1, 2014, the Minneapolis Fed emailed a web-based survey to about 600 Beige Book contacts from around the Ninth District. By Feb. 12, 140 contacts had filled out the survey. The respondents come from a variety of industries (see table).

Beige Book recap: Modest growth in Ninth District

Over the past two months, the Ninth District economy has seen modest growth, according to the latest Beige Book information released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Increased activity was noted in consumer spending, professional services, manufacturing and non-energy mining. Activity was level in tourism and mixed in commercial construction, commercial real estate and agriculture. Energy, residential real estate and residential construction were down. Labor markets continued to tighten since the previous report. While overall wage increases remained modest, there were examples of steeper increases in some regions and industries.

Consumer spending and tourism: Consumer spending increased moderately. Mall and retail representatives across district states reported solid traffic and sales. Overall tourism was about level with a year ago, according to a variety of sources. Construction and real estate: Construction activity was mixed in the district’s larger cities. In Sioux Falls, S.D., the value of November commercial permits increased from a year ago, but fell in Billings, Mont.

Residential construction: Activity was mostly lower. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the value of December residential permits decreased 9 percent from a year earlier and also dropped in the Bismarck, N.D. area (November data). Residential activity was stronger in Billings and Sioux Falls, however. Home sales were generally lower from a year earlier (in November). In the Sioux Falls area, home sales were down 12 percent, inventory increased 1 percent and the median sales price increased 6 percent relative to a year earlier. Sales were also down in northwestern Wisconsin, and the median sales price was 6 percent lower. Minnesota home sales were down 13 percent, inventories of homes for sale increased 5 percent and the median sales price rose 3 percent. Home sales in the Bismarck area were about level with last year.

Manufacturing: Activity increased slightly. A manufacturing index increased in December from the previous month in Minnesota and South Dakota, but fell slightly in North Dakota. However, the index pointed to continued expansion in all three states. Through October, manufactured exports in district states were up 1 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Energy and mining: The energy sector slowed slightly in response to lower output prices. Oil and gas exploration activity decreased in late December compared with a month earlier in Montana and North Dakota. Mining activity increased slightly. District iron ore mines were operating at or near capacity, with November production slightly higher than a year earlier.

Agriculture: Conditions remained mixed, with livestock and dairy producers faring better than crop farmers. A Minneapolis Fed third-quarter survey found that a majority of farm incomes had fallen from a year earlier and that capital spending also decreased. The fourth quarter outlook was also weaker, according to the survey. Prices received by farmers in December decreased from a year earlier for corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and milk; prices increased for cattle, hogs, eggs and poultry.

Employment and wages: Labor markets continued to tighten since the previous report. Overall wage increases remained modest, but there were examples of steeper increases in some regions and industries. Some construction firms in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area noted that labor costs have increased recently. In addition, some managers at Minneapolis-St. Paul area restaurants indicated that they were increasing wages to attract employees.

See the full Beige Book report for more details on the national and Ninth District performance.

October Mid-America survey shows softness in Dakotas; Minnesota on top

Update from last week’s blog.

Results from the October Mid-America Business Conditions Index, released this week, show weakening conditions in the Dakotas and Minnesota. The index surveys supply managers monthly in a nine-state region, and an index greater than 50 indicates expected expansion over the next three to six months.

For the first time in recent memory, sentiment in North Dakota is hovering near contraction, with the state’s overall index declining to 54.8 and employment dropping to 51.2; both of South Dakota’s scores have continued a general descent of late, declining to 51.8. While Minnesota’s scores also dropped, it remains a bright spot, with its overall index at a healthy 63.7, with employment at 56.7.

Mid-America UPDATE -- 11-4-14

U.P. electricity prices tops in district

Households and firms in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have long complained about expensive power. Civic and business leaders say high electricity rates squeeze family budgets and hamper efforts to foster industrial development in a region plagued by high unemployment.

Angst over the price of U.P. electricity has come to a head this fall. A regional power grid authority has ordered Wisconsin-based We Energies to continue operating an aging coal-fired power plant near Marquette, with costs passed along to U.P. ratepayers. If federal energy regulators approve, U.P. utility customers could see average rate increases of $100 annually to fund operating subsidies for the Presque Isles plant and two other coal-fired power plants in the U.P.

The Michigan Public Service Commission and big U.P. power consumers such as Cliffs Natural Resources—owners of the Empire and Tilden iron mines—have objected to the proposed rate hikes, saying they would further burden utility customers already paying dearly for electricity.

Federal price data show that U.P. residents pay higher electricity rates than those in other parts of the Ninth District and the nation as a whole (see Chart 1). Electricity costs about 20 percent more in the U.P. than it does in Minnesota and about 35 percent more than in North Dakota. But Yoopers pay less than Michiganders overall, and U.P. power is a bargain compared with utility rates in some parts of the country, such as New England.

However, the U.P. average rate obscures wide disparities across the peninsula; residents of some U.P. communities pay significantly more than others to keep the lights on, the result of differing customer densities and, in some cases, reliance on imported power rather than local generation sources. State PSC figures for 2013 show that power producers such as Upper Peninsular Power Co. and the Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association, which primarily serve customers in the western and central U.P., charge much higher rates than other utilities (see Chart 2).

UP power -- 11-3-14

Surveys: District manufacturing, state economies seeing fluctuation

Amid the news of falling oil prices and a slowing global economy in contrast to a comparatively strong U.S. economy, two monthly surveys by Creighton University offer a somewhat muddled picture of economic growth in three Ninth District states.

The Rural Mainstreet Index asks community bank presidents and CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region (including Minnesota and the Dakotas) about current economic conditions and six-month outlook in roughly 200 small communities.

Since mid-2013, the overall index has stayed mostly in expansion territory (an index score of 50 or more). But the index has dipped into contraction on a couple of occasions—particularly for South Dakota—and the general slope of sentiment is slightly downward (see Chart 1).

The good news: Respondents have been upbeat on new hires, with particularly strong scores in Minnesota and North Dakota. The less good news: Sentiment toward farmland prices has tumbled, especially in Minnesota and South Dakota, most likely stemming from low crop prices over this period. Aside from a single-month blip, North Dakota’s farmland index has stay strongly in expansion territory, most likely the result of the state’s very strong economy, with farmland prices possibly being buoyed by demand from nonfarmers.

Mid-America Ch1 -- 10-31-14

A second survey by Creighton, the Mid-America Business Conditions Index, compiles monthly data from manufacturing, purchasing and supply executives in the same 10-state region (and also including Minnesota and the Dakotas). Overall, respondents in these Ninth District states have reported solid expansion, with the overall index slightly upward over the past year (see Chart 2). After a big uptick in employment sentiment, index scores dropped over the summer, but respondents in Minnesota and North Dakota continued to see healthy expansion in the latest surveys. In both manufacturing indexes (overall and employment), South Dakota has seen its scores dip of late, and they appear to be trending downward.

Mid-America Ch2 -- 10-31-14

A summer of steady growth in the Ninth District

The Ninth District economy continued to show signs of steady growth through the summer months, characterized by job growth, decreases in unemployment rates and gains in home building.

As of August, nonfarm employment in district states was up 1.8 percent relative to a year ago, posting a net increase of about 122,000 jobs. North Dakota reported the strongest employment growth among district states, accounting for about one in every six jobs added in the Ninth District over the past 12 months despite the state’s workforce comprising only 7 percent of the district total. Employment growth in other district states was largely in line with the national trend (up 1.8 percent), except in South Dakota, where nonfarm employment growth was 0.7 percent.

The district unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent over the same period, down 0.8 percentage points from a year ago. The spread in unemployment rates among district states has narrowed over the past 12 months. Regions with relatively high unemployment rates, such as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin and Montana, posted larger year-over-year declines than Minnesota and the Dakotas, where unemployment rates started out much lower last year.

Manufacturing wage growth in the district slowed to 1.4 percent during the three-month period ending in August, compared with a growth rate of 2.5 percent during the same period a year earlier. With the exception of North Dakota and Wisconsin, growth in manufacturing wages in district states was below the national average of 1.6 percent. Montana’s manufacturing workers reported the lowest year-over-year growth rate in hourly earnings among district states, which barely reversed the flat or declining trend in manufacturing wages in the state for much of 2013 and early 2014.

During second quarter 2014, personal income growth (adjusted for inflation) across district states was positive, posting a 2.2 percent overall increase relative to a year ago for the district. Except for North Dakota, all district states posted lower personal income growth rates relative to the national average of 2.4 percent, while South Dakota’s state ranking in growth was near the bottom.

New housing authorizations for the three-month period ending in August were up 8.2 percent in district states; however, rates varied widely among district states. Montana and South Dakota posted year-over-year declines of over 20 percent in new housing authorizations, while North Dakota showed a 42 percent increase over the same period. Housing authorizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin were up 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively, closer to the national average of 7.7 percent.

Home prices continued to show increases in several district cities. During the second quarter of 2014, home prices were 7.4 percent higher than a year ago in Bismarck, N.D., 6.7 percent higher in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 3.2 percent higher in Fargo, N.D., and 2.6 percent higher in Sioux Falls, S.D. Nationally, home prices increased by 4.4 percent during the same period.

For current and historical data on the economic indicators referenced here, see the “Monthly Summary” spreadsheet, along with other Ninth District data that are updated regularly.

Minnesota: The land of 10,000 deep-fried things

The annual Minnesota State Fair finished on a high note this year, setting an attendance record of 1.82 million. The state’s fair is known for its unusual popularity compared with fairs of other states, and it is the second-largest state fair in the nation, second only to Texas.

The fair’s popularity has continued to grow slowly and steadily over time, with only occasional and modest declines in annual attendance (see chart). One of the reasons for this steady attendance pattern likely has something to do with simple population growth. Since 1990, the Minnesota State Fair has typically attracted the equivalent of about one of every three residents (fluctuating modestly between about 31 percent and 36 percent of the state population in a given year). As the population has grown, so too has State Fair attendance.

That doesn’t, however, explain why the Minnesota State Fair is popular to more of its residents than those of other states. For example, attendance at the Wisconsin State Fair represents fewer than one in five state residents. The State Fair of Texas attracts about 2.8 million visitors (over 24 days, compared to Minnesota’s 11 days). Still, that works out to barely one in 10 residents of the Lone Star State.

State Fair attendance -- 10-15-14

Business survey: Ninth District should continue to grow

Results from a Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis ad hoc survey of 603 Ninth District firms (see methodology) reveals that economic activity at firms across industry sectors increased over the past four quarters and should continue over the next four quarters (see table).

Looking back: Firms across industries reported increased sales revenue, profits, productivity and employment. The availability of labor decreased, especially in the construction sector, where the majority of respondents reported a lack of available labor. Respondents from most sectors reported increases in selling prices and input costs. Wage and benefit increases were moderate. They also noted an uptick in availability of financing.

Looking forward: Respondents are more optimistic for the next four quarters, as a higher proportion of respondents reported expectations for increased sales revenue, profits, productivity and employment. The availability of labor is expected to continue to decrease. Respondents expect to raise prices and pay more for inputs. However, wage and benefit increases are expected to be moderate.

State economic outlook: Respondents expect their state economies to grow as well. Employment, consumer spending and profits are all expected to increase. However, the vast majority of respondents across industries expect inflation to increase.

August ad hoc table -- 8-21-14

Ad hoc survey methodology: On Monday, August 18, an email was sent to 5,000 contacts (not a random sample) from various sectors around the Ninth District. By 12 noon Wednesday, August 20, 603 responses were received, representing a 12 percent response rate. The largest number of responses came from finance (24 percent), professional services (20 percent), manufacturing (15 percent), real estate (13 percent), construction (8 percent) and nonprofits (7 percent).