Are workers in a tight labor market finally seeing a raise in pay? The Federal Reserve thinks so.

“Wages rose modestly in most (economic) sectors” in late 2017, “and strong wage growth was anticipated in the coming months,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City says in its latest survey of the region’s economy.

We’ve heard that before, just as we’ve heard for almost a decade that inflation was just around the corner, but in its latest “beige book” report, released earlier this month, the Federal Reserve once again cites chronic labor shortages and suggests that sustained wage increases might be at hand. Specifically in the Kansas City region – the plains and prairies from western Missouri to Colorado – the shortages include skilled technicians, commercial drivers and service workers.

The 12 Federal Reserve banks around the country periodically survey contacts across the economy and tally that up eight times a year.

Other regional highlights:

• Employment is “expected to increase over the next six months in all sectors except for retail trade.”

• Manufacturers expect “moderate increases in both finished goods and raw material prices in the coming months.” Manufacturers plan moderate capital spending.

• Consumer spending is seen rising moderately in the months ahead.

The Kansas City Fed also notes that commercial real estate activity has picked up while residential activity has slowed. Dodge Data & Analytics has a different take, reporting that residential and commercial construction for the metro area – 15 counties, both states – was off in 2017. Residential starts amounted to $2.3 billion, down 7 percent from 2016, and non-residential starts were $2.14 billion, down 22 percent.

People and places

Longtime local banker Jeff Smith has joined America’s Community Bank as executive vice president and senior lender, with the aim of enlarging the bank’s lending program. Twila V. Gregg and Richard A. Gregg bought the bank in downtown Blue Springs at the beginning of the month. Twila Gregg is the bank’s president and CEO, a role she’s had at two other banks in Eastern Jackson County. … John Skinner, a financial adviser for Edward Jones in Blue Springs for 21 years, has been named as a principal with The Jones Financial Companies. Its more than 15,000 advisers have more than 7 million clients. The company has nearly 500 principals. … That dirt being pushed around in front of Menards in Independence is going to become a Dairy Queen. No word from the company about when it opens or whether it replaces another DQ in the area. … The Lake City Army Ammunition Plant -- whose operator, Orbital ATK-Small Caliber Systems, was recently given the Independence Chamber of Commerce annual Award for Corporate Excellence – has added 300 employees in the last six months. It’s also looking for about 100 more.

Dodging a bullet

It’s appropriate to pause for a moment a note that the latest waves of “big box” store closings – and there will be more – haven’t hit Eastern Jackson County as hard as might have been feared. Yes, Kmart has struggled for years, and the closing this month of its last Eastern Jackson County location – in the Susquehanna area of Independence – means the retailer has all but left the Kansas City market. But other big players such as Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, Macy’s and Sam’s Club have announced long lists of closings in recent weeks and months. So far we’ve been lucky. That is no small thing.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor and reporter. He’s at 816-350-6313 and He posts business items and other things @FoxEJC.