From the Desk of Chad Elmore
It’s the start of a new year, and with it comes a sense of optimism. New Year’s resolutions, both personal and professional, have been made and are not yet broken. With winter solstice behind us, daylight will stick around longer. Spring is on its way.
Of course, 2012 is an election year and there’s still plenty of uncertainty over the overall state of the U.S. economy. However, for those living in rural areas, 2012 begins on a high note. The economic outlook for rural America is strong, thanks to high commodity prices. Successful “buy local” campaigns are keeping consumer dollars closer to home, with more people looking to do business at independent local stores and banks.
In December 2011, for a third straight month, the Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) increased. The reading from a monthly survey of bank CEOs in agriculturally dependent areas in a 10-state region climbed to its highest level since June 2007.
According to Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, “Growth in the areas of the region and country tied to agriculture and energy are outpacing urban areas. Our survey is detecting a very healthy Rural Mainstreet economy with the gap between urban and rural widening. Bankers reported that approximately 60% of agricultural producers have contracted or sold their 2011 production.”
The survey represents a snapshot of the economy for rural portions of the nation. To compile the RMI, community bank presidents and CEOs in nonurban, agriculturally and energy-dependent portions of a 10-state area (Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming) are surveyed monthly by Creighton University. It focuses on around 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300.
The December RMI showed that the economic confidence index, which reflects expectations for the economy six months out, climbed to 61.8 from November’s 57.5.
In the banking sector, the loan volume index for December increased to 50.8 from November’s 44.2. The checking deposit index, while still healthy at 68.9, was down from November’s 81.7, and the index for certificates of deposit and other savings instruments dipped to a very weak 37.0 from 41.7 last month.
“Tepid loan demand, and healthy checking deposits are consistent with a very strong farm economy across the region,” says Goss.
Farmers are buying new machinery, too. According to RMI, the farm equipment sales index expanded to 73.8, up from 68.4 in November.
Consumer confidence is infectious. Regardless of whether or not your rural lifestyle customers have a direct connection to farming, their neighbors and friends most likely do. They’re talking about it down at the coffee shop. The local economies are in the best shape they’ve been in for years.
If doing a better job of reaching out to the rural lifestyler is one of your resolutions for the New Year, 2012 will be a very good year.
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