OMAHA, Neb. – A business conditions index for nine Midwest and Plains states, including Missouri, surged last month to its highest level in a dozen years, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index hit 64.5 in April, compared with 62.1 in March, the report said. The index stood at 65.7 in May 2006.

"Much of the recent growth has been driven by exports," said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the index survey. "Almost four of five companies reported that exports were an important component of their company's profitability."

The regional new export orders index rose to 70.0 last month from 63.6 in March, and the import index dipped just a point to 62.5.

"A cheap U.S. dollar making U.S. goods more competitively priced abroad, and growth among U.S. trading partners, supported regional exports while regional economic growth boosted purchases from abroad," Goss said.

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 Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The April employment index sank to 48.1 from 58.4 in March – a drop that Goss blamed on labor shortages.

"The share of supply managers reporting labor shortages continues to grow and is now limiting employment growth for the region," he said.

Two-thirds of the supply managers who responded to the survey said their companies intended to add workers for the remainder of 2018.

Economic optimism over the next six months was captured by the business confidence index, which bounded up to 70.2 last month from March's 64.3.

"Healthy profit growth, still low interest rates, and a reduction of global trade tensions pushed business confidence into a range indicating robust business confidence," Goss said.