I’ve heard a word of worry – maybe you have too – about an economic downtown somewhere out there over the horizon.

Maybe in the mid-term. Eventually, for sure. But for the moment the indicators at hand point toward modest but continued growth, and that includes right here in the middle of the country.

The Federal Reserve Beige Book has limitations – it leans toward the anecdotal – but it’s a decent snapshot of current sentiment. The latest Beige Book report came out last week, and the Kansas City Fed noted that economic activity “continued to expand slightly” in the late winter and early spring and that its contacts across the plains and prairies expected more growth in the months ahead.

“Manufacturing activity expanded modestly,” the KC Fed said, “and capital spending plans rose moderately as manufacturers expected rising sales and high capacity utilization moving forward.”

It did add a concern that “recent severe weather could stress farm operations in the months ahead.”

And this part, repeated regularly in these eight-times-a-year reports, always seems to underline one of the largest challenges in the economy:

“A majority of respondents (the Fed’s contacts across the region) continued to report labor shortages for low- and medium-skill workers, including auto technicians, truck drivers, and all positions for retail stores and restaurants. A few respondents also noted shortages in high-skill positions such as accountants, pilots, and pharmacists. Wages continued to expand at a modest pace … Moderate wage gains were anticipated in the months ahead.”

All of that is in line with the most recent posting from the Economic Forecasting Group at Creighton University in Omaha. It reports a higher business conditions index in March, compared with February, for Missouri and for nine Midwestern states as a whole.

“In 2018, despite tariffs and trade tensions, the region exported approximately $20 billion in agriculture commodities supporting 96,000 jobs, a gain of 8.1 percent from 2017,” Creighton says, adding that 7,300 of those jobs are in Missouri.

Concerns? Sure. Trade tensions and tariffs, the slowing economy around the world and, much closer to home, flooding. But the overall picture is that of an unspectacular but growing economy.

 

Quick hits

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir got a shout-out at last week’s Independence Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Kurt Graham, director of the Truman Library, brought up a well-known Truman line – “Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest plan you can think of and spend the rest of your life carrying it out.” – in noting that Weir was recently named in the metro area’s “Power 100” by the Kansas City Business Journal. Graham said it’s clear “that she is a woman who thinks very big.” … The Independence Business Showcase is coming up May 15 at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Convention Center, 18011 E. Bass Pro Drive in Independence. The public portion is from 1 to 3 p.m. Go to www.iChamber.biz for information on being an exhibitor or attending the luncheon, where the speaker is Chase McAnulty, founder and CEO of Charlie Hustle.

 

New bridge

The BNSF Railroad plans a new bridge over the Missouri River in Sibley near the defunct Sibley power plant. It would be immediately downstream from the existing one. In addition to BNSF freight trains, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief crosses that bridge twice a day on its route connecting Chicago and Los Angeles.

Since the Missouri River is navigable, the Coast Guard has to sign off on the plan. It has determined that the new bridge won’t affect historical properties and isn’t likely to harm any endangered or threatened species.

The Coast Guard is still taking public comments, through May 20, at Office of the Commander, Eighth Coast Guard District Bridge Branch, Room 2.102Dm 1222 Spruce Street, St. Louis, MO 63103-2832.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or 816-350-6365. He’s on Twitter at @FoxEJC.