Heartland economic outlook at four-year high

Combine harvesting corn

Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Index showed that the rural economy of the Midwest is trending upward with improving, but slow economic growth.

For the first time since 2015, a key measure of rural America’s economic health is above growth neutral for two consecutive months.

Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Index stood at 54.7 in March, down just a tick from February’s 54.8 but above the 50.0 growth-neutral mark. It’s also a vast improvement from March 2017, when the overall index stood at 45.6. “Surveys over the past several months indicate that the Rural Mainstreet economy is trending upward with improving, but slow, economic growth. However, weak agriculture commodity prices continue to weigh on the rural economy,” said Ernie Goss, a professor at the school’s Heider College of Business.

The confidence index, reflecting economic expectations six months out, soared in March. It stands at 58.0, up from 52.4 in February.

Another bright spot was the hiring index. The March figure came in at 58.1, and while lower than February’s 58.8, the report noted that “the Rural Mainstreet economy is now experiencing positive year-over-year job growth.”

The Creighton University Mainstreet Index represents an early snapshot of the economy of rural, agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of the nation. The Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) is a unique index covering 10 regional states, including Minnesota, focusing on approximately 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300.