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Examiner
  • Jeff Fox: Some worries, but growth appears likely

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  • The final business quarter kicked off inauspiciously with a federal government shutdown and a second, worse, congressional crisis lurking in a couple of weeks with a standoff over raising the federal debt limit.
    But economists looking ahead to the Q4 2013 see more of the same: Growth that’s steady though not spectacular.
    The Mid-America Business Conditions Index, released Tuesday, remained in positive territory in September, meaning the sentiments of supply managers at companies across a nine-state region add up to signs of growth ahead.
    Missouri is one of those states, and its September score was 55.6, up slightly from August. Any reading above 50 suggests growth in the near term. Specifically, Creighton points to heavy growth in construction, which in turn drives demand for manufactured goods. In each of the components of that overall score – new orders, production, delivery lead time, inventories and employment – Missouri was above 50.
    The Creighton Economic Forecasting Group at Creighton University in Omaha compiles the survey across nine states, from North Dakota and Minnesota south to Oklahoma and Arkansas. In those nine states, the September number was 54.8, slightly higher than in August.
    That’s despite some headwinds: Crop prices are down, ag exports are off, and companies tied to agriculture are growing slowly. There are worries about inflation in wholesale prices.
    And business confidence is off amid uncertainty over the government shutdown (happened), implementation of the Affordable Care Act (happening now) and the debt-ceiling debate (stay tuned). Of the companies surveyed, 37.5 percent said they either cut hiring or reduced hours because of the ACA. Conversely, two-thirds of companies say federal sequestration – across-the-board cuts that began early in the spring – have had no impact.
    Still, private companies say they plan to keep hiring and keep making, selling, shipping more goods.
    That’s in line with what the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City noted in its latest “beige book” report a few weeks ago. Looking at the area from western Missouri to Wyoming to northern New Mexico, a good chunk of the nation’s prairies and plains, it saw consumer spending that rose over the summer and is expected to continue doing so, an uptick in manufacturing – except defense contractors suffering a drop in orders because sequestration – some shortages of specialized labor, and higher home sales and home prices.
    Here’s the optimistic takeaway: “Plant managers indicated modest hiring and capital spending plans with solid expectations for future factory output,” the KC Fed reports.
    Open for business
    Lots of new businesses are opening this month:
    • In Grain Valley, Eagle Fitness at 557 R.D. Mize Road cuts the ribbon at noon today.
    Page 2 of 3 - • In Independence, Keller Williams Eastland Partners, a real estate firm at 20101 E. Jackson Drive, held a grand opening Tuesday.
    • The much-anticipated Burlington Coat Factory at 11910 East U.S. 40 in Independence – the old Blue Ridge East Cinema site – should open within days. Its ribbon cutting is Oct. 11.
    • The McDonald’s in at Main Street and U.S. 40 in Grain Valley opens around the middle of the month.
    • Northern Tool + Equipment, at 4023 S. Noland Road, next to Office Depot in Independence, is tentatively set to open Oct. 11.
    • There’s also a new sports bar and grill coming to the long-dormant site where Macaroni Grill once was, next to the Hilton Garden Inn on Jackson Drive in Independence.
    It says it serves “made-from-scratch man food” in a “mountain sports lodge setting,” and it emphasizes – how does one put this? – young ladies who might catch a cold if they don’t cover up. Its name: Twin Peaks.
    The company, based in the Dallas area, has 43 locations. This would be its second in the metro area.
    Beware scammers
    The coming of October also means that federal health insurance exchanges have been launched – an online means for consumers to compare prices and services – under the Affordable Care Act.
    Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster reminds people to beware of scammers. Using the exchanges will entail providing personal information, and that’s inviting for identity thieves. So be careful about phony websites, mailings, calls and the good old-fashioned high-pressure pitch. Koster’s advice:
    • Beware of anyone asking you for money to enroll in exchange insurance, something legitimate enrollment assistants will not ask for. Be especially aware of those trying to sell an Obamacare insurance card.
    • Check things out. Verify the affiliation of anyone who wants to help you enroll. There are three types of licensed assistants: an insurance agent, an application counselor certified by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and insurance navigators licensed by the state of Missouri. Call 1-800-318-2596 to see if the person offering to help is legitimate.
    • In Missouri, two websites provide legitimate information: enrollmissouri.org, operated by the Missouri Hospital Association, and covermissouri.org, operated by the Missouri Foundation for Health.
    • Resist the high-pressure pitch, ask for ID from anyone who comes to the door, and, remember, don’t offer information over the phone unless you’re the one who made the call or online unless you’re the one who initiated contact. “No one from the government will call or email you to sell you an insurance plan or ask for personal information,” Koster’s office says.
    Page 3 of 3 - • Use the official website. HealthCare.gov, or call 800-318-2596. (That’s also the number to call if you suspect fraud.) Avoid sham websites. Look for that “.gov” at the end.
    • Avoid fake products. That phony “prescription card” could be just a discount card, not insurance.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @FoxEJC.

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