The latest St. Cloud Area Quarterly Business Report, published earlier this week, continues a theme its authors anticipated at the start of 2015: While economic times are good, there are signs of caution looming as Central Minnesota enters the second half of the year.
Authors King Banaian and Rich MacDonald of St. Cloud State University noted area employment growth was flat during the most recent 12 months, businesses were optimistic but less so than a year ago, and the area’s leading economic indicator series is flat.
“It would be understandable for a more pessimistic reader to see a flat LEI series, flat employment, and the standstill in residential construction to be concerned about the St. Cloud economy. We are concerned as well,” they wrote. “But one must place in the balance against these negatives the tightness of the labor market, the formation of new businesses, better perceived pricing power, and continued growth of employment of area citizens, which should give rise to increases in personal income and retail sales — particularly in combination with survey responses indicating higher compensation.
“Alas, those last two measures are only reported with significant lags, making it harder to say whether the civilian employment data should make us a little more optimistic. So we remain cautious, perhaps a little more so than last quarter.”
All in all, it’s not surprising the area’s economy, torrid for most of 2014, is cooling off. Here’s hoping the next six months prove only to be a minor economic cold front.
Six months ago, Central Minnesota’s two biggest transportation challenges of the year were what to do about losing daily commercial air service at St. Cloud Regional Airport and pushing for a statewide long-term transportation plan.
Barring a miracle, both challenges will go unmet until 2016 — and quite possibly a few years beyond. Here’s why:
Regarding air service, SkyWest and United dropping daily Chicago flights sooner than expected shows just how difficult it will be to acquire and retain service in the near future. That’s why it’s a good move for the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., which championed the flights, to take a broader view of transportation needs for Central Minnesota moving forward.
Doing so also puts even more focus on the area’s other challenge — pushing for a statewide, long-term transportation plan complete with adequate funding.
Unfortunately, the 2015 Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton failed to find a compromise even though the House, Senate and governor’s plans all offered the potential for a decadelong deal. The result means state funding essentially stays flat for at least a year.
Given, though, all legislators are on the 2016 ballot, you can judge for yourself how willing they might be to adopt solutions that either raise taxes or cut other programs — or both.