A monthly survey of business supply managers suggests economic conditions in nine Midwest and Plains states improved slightly in April, according to a report released Monday.
The Mid-America Business Conditions Index report said the overall economic index for the region rose to 61.4 in April from 60.1 in March. It's the fifth month in a row that the index remained above growth neutral.
"The overall index over the past several months indicates a healthy regional manufacturing economy and points to strong growth for both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing through the third quarter of this year," said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.
The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor. A score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The April employment index remained well above growth neutral, climbing to 62.9 from 62.6 in March.
"This is the highest employment gauge recorded since May of 2006," Goss said. "The nonmanufacturing sector of the regional economy continues to outperform the manufacturing sector, but that gap is closing."
The supply managers surveyed were asked last month to identify the greatest economic challenge facing their companies this year. Almost four of 10 reported that finding and hiring qualified workers was their greatest obstacle to 2017 business expansion, the report said.
The business confidence index declined to 69.5 in April from 70.2 in March. Goss attributed the continuing high economic confidence to strong profit growth and still low interest rates.
In two regional measures of foreign trade, the new export orders index fell to 60.5 last month from 61.6 in March, and the import index dropped to 60.7 from March's 62.8.