Oklahoma is back to economic growth in a leading economic indicator for a nine-state region, but it’s lagging behind overall.
Oklahoma in January climbed above neutral on the Mid-America Business Conditions Index for the first time since October, hitting 52.2, up from 48.4 in December. Numbers above 50 on the 0 to 100 scale suggest economic growth.
For the entire region, however, the index was above neutral for the third time in the past four months and at 57.2 reached its highest level since March.
"Not remarkably solid but much unexpected from my vantage point and well above the number we’re seeing for the national economy," said Creighton University Economic Forecasting Group Director Ernie Goss.
South Dakota was the region's top performer, hitting 59.3.
Goss said new trade deals with Canada, Mexico and perhaps China are good for the manufacturing industry, but there’s a clear problem holding businesses back.
"Finding and hiring qualified workers remains the biggest constraint for the manufacturers in the nine states that we survey," Goss said.
Over the past 12 months, wages for private workers in Oklahoma increased 0.8%, ninth in the nine-state region that also includes Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Goss said there are a couple economic unknowns ahead. No one can say how the coronavirus will impact trade.
"The SARS virus in 2003 had a big negative impact on the overall economy. That could really put a dent — a short-term dent — in the regional economy. Trade’s been, very recently, a positive. We want to see that continue," Goss said.
Goss said politics are also an area to keep an eye on, with businesses generally wary of more progressive Democrats running for president.