Clearly the economy has slowed substantially in the three weeks since the country at last began taking significant measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Even the usual snapshots could be of limited usefulness, but the monthly Business Conditions Index from Creighton University usually has a good read on what’s happening in the Midwest.


Its latest report came out last week, and it hints at some significant changes. Creighton surveys purchasing managers at manufacturing companies, and it found that about one-third have started switching to more domestic suppliers of the goods they need, or are considering doing so. Nearly two-thirds reported problems shipping to or from vendors – squeezing inventories – and more than half reported worker absences related to coronavirus.


Creighton also has a little more on the surge in unemployment compensation claims. Those jumped 11-fold nationwide three weeks ago, and they rose 16-fold in Creighton’s nine-state region from the Dakotas and Minnesota to Oklahoma and Arkansas. That’s from 16,628 claims across nine states in the second week of March up to 272,540 claims the next week.


It was also very bad – but slightly less so than regionally or nationally – in Missouri, which had a 10-fold increase. Overall, the employment component of Creighton’s index fell to its lowest point in 10 years.


Creighton asks purchasing managers about a variety of things – sales, delivery lead time, employment, wholesale prices – and creates an index state by state and for the region. On a zero-to-100 scale, a reading above 50 suggests a growing economy in the months ahead. In February, the regional number was 52.8. For March – the number that Creighton posted last week – it fell to 46.7, a big swing as these things go. Missouri went from 51.1 to 45.3.


Eight out of 10 purchasing managers said COVID-19 had caused the cancellation of business meetings. It’s hard to imagine a lot of complaining about that, but meetings have to happen and decisions have to be made – at some point anyway – for commerce to move ahead.


Quick hits


• Jackson County is giving restaurants and food-service organizations a six-month delay in paying fees to renew licenses. Those payments will be due Oct. 1, so the county shouldn’t be out any money, “but it would give them a bit of reprieve” in the current crisis,” said County Legislator Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs.


• The Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City has postponed its Spring Parade of Homes. It stresses that the event, which had been set for April 25 to May 10, is not canceled but merely postponed.


Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net.