Economy Improves in October Report(Posted: December 11, 2013)
The regional economy continued to improve through October, according to the report released Dec. 11 by the Center for Business Research and Economic Development (CBRED) at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
The October Monthly Economic Indicators Index report for the Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) revealed improvement in retail sales for September, auto and homes sales for October, and notable improvement in regional employment.
The latest numbers for the overall Economic Activity Index for the month was for September, the latest available due to the lag in retail sales data. The index rose nearly 2 percent over a year ago, reflecting the overall improvement in the economy observed in recent reports.
CBRED director Dr. Kermit Kuehn of Fort Smith said that the regional economy has begun to show consistent improvement in key areas in recent months.
According to the report, September retail sales rose 1.3 percent from a year ago. Year-to-date retail activity for the MSA has remained in positive territory thus far for 2013.
"This year's been challenging for the regional consumer," Kuehn said, "and it remains to be seen how this will play out for retailers over the remaining weeks of December."
New and used auto sales continued to rise year-over-year with sales up 16.3 percent over October 2012. Kuehn noted that October was a good month in terms of unit sales as well, with new car sales continuing to do well.
According to the report, total non-farm employment for the Fort Smith MSA of 121,300 people employed reflected 3,700 more jobs in the MSA than what was reported in October a year ago.
"The jobs picture has steadily improved this year relative to 2012, though not all sectors have participated in this," Kuehn said.
He noted that based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 133,500 people in the region were either employed or looking for work in October, a significant improvement in the regional jobs picture. Kuehn pointed out that this number was around 140,000 in 2007.
Home sales for the MSA rose again, up 8.7 percent from a year ago. The positive results follow a string of monthly year-over-year improvements which began in July. The average price of a home sold has continued to drop, however, down 15 percent from a year ago.
The report revealed that residential construction permit activity declined slightly relative to last year with 37 permits pulled in October. However, year-to-day permits activity remains well ahead of 2012. The 447 permits pulled through October were 13 percent higher than in 2012 for the same period.
Airport traffic numbers were lower in October, down 3.6 percent year-over-year. Passenger traffic for the year remains 2.6 percent below a year ago at this time.