Local economic outlook largely positive as pandemic fades

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Both statewide and locally, the economy appears to be recovering as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to recede. 

Gov. Laura Kelly’s office announced Tuesday that tax collections for May of 2021 were more than $600 million higher than in May of 2020. The state collected more than $1 billion for the month in total taxes. 

“Our May tax receipt numbers are good news and show that our efforts to strengthen Kansas’ economy are paying off,” Kelly said. “We will continue moving forward by prioritizing pro-growth policies that will support Kansas businesses and Kansas families.” 

Locally, increased tax revenue was just one of several positive economic indicators highlighted by Pittsburg officials at a city commission meeting last month. 

Finance Director Larissa Bowman said that as of the end of April, a third of the way through the year, sales tax collections were up 9.52 percent compared to the same period last year — when the economic situation nationwide had generally appeared to be improving before being derailed by COVID-19 lockdowns. 

“So at this point our funds are looking fairly healthy,” Bowman said. “We’re right on track for this time of the year.” 

Bowman noted that Pittsburg saw a 6.74 percent increase in Consumers’ Compensating Use Tax in 2020 over the previous year, mostly driven by online sales. Kansas began imposing sales tax on all online purchases made in the state through the Use Tax in 2019. 

Director of Economic Development Blake Benson, along with Pittsburg State University’s Darrell Pulliam, also spoke at the commission meeting, presenting the city’s quarterly economic development report. 

The report noted that in March of 2020 — right before the pandemic lockdowns — the local unemployment rate was 3.3 percent, compared to 3.7 percent in March of 2021. Nationwide, however, those numbers were 4.4 percent and 6 percent, respectively.  

“I’d say that we have recovered, from an economic standpoint, very well from the pandemic,” Benson said. “It’s obviously not over, but 3.7 percent is where we are locally right now, and you can see how that compares to the national average.” 

The Kansas Department of Labor has since reported that preliminary estimates show a statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.5 percent for April, compared to 12.6 percent in April 2020. In Crawford County, the unemployment rate for April 2021 was 3.2 percent, compared to 9.8 percent in April 2020, according to data published this week by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 

Benson and Pulliam’s presentation additionally noted that commercial building permits in Pittsburg nearly doubled in 2020. 

“The local business community in the Pittsburg micropolitan area is very optimistic about the area’s economic future,” notes the most recent Pittsburg Micropolitan Area Economic Report, which is published quarterly by PSU’s Kelce College of Business. 

Director of Housing and Community Development Quentin Holmes also spoke at the May commission meeting, saying that “we are booming as a community right now.” 

Despite the generally optimistic economic outlook locally, though, there have also been some recent signs that are less encouraging for the broader region. 

A newly released survey of business leaders and managers in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota indicates that the economy in the 9-state region “remains strong in the wake of a devastating global pandemic,” according to an Associated Press report published Wednesday, “but the survey’s index gauging inflation soared to a new record high.” 

The survey, known as the Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions Index, includes a wholesale inflation gauge, which increased to 96.3 in May from the previous record of 96.2 in April. 

“Since June of last year, metal prices have expanded by 20.8%, and lumber products have advanced by 63.1%, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data,” Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, told the AP. 

The survey showed nearly a third of supply managers saying that rapidly rising input prices were the greatest economic challenge for their business this year.