Regional Activity

Great Plains

The population of the Great Plains has grown at a slower pace than the rest of the Nation over the past decade. With an estimated population of 12.7 million as of October 1, 2000, the population of the Great Plains increased 6.7 percent, or approximately 800,000 individuals, since the 1990 Census. Missouri, which added 400,000 people, had the largest absolute increase. However, Kansas recorded the highest rate of growth at 8.1 percent.

Nonagricultural employment in the Great Plains increased by 94,400 jobs (1.5 percent) to 6,461,900 workers during the 12 months ending August 2000. Growth was recorded for all the major sectors of the economy except manufacturing employment, which fell 1.3 percent. Construction employment grew by more than 5 percent, or 16,400 workers. Unemployment averaged 2.7 percent in the Great Plains as of August 2000, compared with 3.0 percent a year earlier. Iowa recorded the lowest unemployment rate at 2.0 percent, while Kansas had the highest rate at 3.3 percent.

Through September, 32,992 single-family building permits were issued in the Great Plains, a 10-percent decline compared with the first 9 months of 1999. Missouri had the largest decrease, issuing 1,681 fewer single-family permits, for a total of 13,951 units, also a 10-percent decline from the same period in 1999. Kansas had the greatest percentage decline (14.3 percent), falling from 8,290 to 7,105 units in the 9-month period.

Multifamily building permit activity in the Great Plains for the first 9 months of 2000 was up 19 percent, compared with the same period in 1999. Permits were issued for 11,750 units. Activity in Iowa through September almost doubled, from 1,778 units to 3,257 units.

The annual rate of existing home sales in the Great Plains region as of the third quarter was down 5.5 percent, compared with the same period in 1999. However, sales prices continued to climb in many areas. In the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, the median sales price increased 11 percent to $82,700. The Des Moines area recorded a 6-percent increase in sales price. In the Kansas City metropolitan area, the median sales price reached $130,500, a 6-percent increase over the third quarter of 1999.

Spotlight on Omaha, Nebraska-Iowa

As of October 1, 2000, the population of the Omaha metropolitan area was estimated to be 707,500, reflecting a growth rate of 1 percent per year since 1990. Nonagricultural employment in the Omaha metropolitan area increased 6,600 during the 12 months ending August 2000. During the same period the unemployment rate fell to 2.4 percent. The most significant increases in employment were recorded in the transportation, communication, and utilities sectors (3.6 percent) and in construction (3.3 percent).

The voters of Omaha recently approved a $198 million bond issue toward public financing for a $281 million convention center/arena to be built on a 115-acre tract near the Missouri River. Private sources have pledged $75 million in donations to help develop the 950,000-square-foot facility, which will anchor the $1.5 billion revitalization of downtown Omaha and its waterfront that is currently under way. Projects under construction in Omaha's downtown include the $300 million, 40-story, First National Tower scheduled for completion in 2002 and the $125 million Omaha World-Herald Freedom Center to be completed in 2001. Eight new downtown hotels recently have been completed, are under construction, or are planned. Together they represent an investment of approximately $140 million. The Union Pacific is ready to start construction on the $90 million Harriman Center, and the Gallup Organization recently announced that it will spend $81 million to develop its new world headquarters and training campus on a 60-acre site just south of the convention center/arena. New expressway connectors, bridges, and street beautification will cost approximately $55 million. Other major construction projects in the Omaha area include $340 million in improvements at Omaha's airport the Renaissance Center, a $55 million residential community and marina in Council Bluffs; and approximately $40 million in new headquarters buildings and manufacturing facilities.

Since 1996, the sales housing market in the Omaha area has been particularly strong, with production averaging approximately 3,500 homes annually. In 1999, permits were issued for more than 4,000 homes, but production fell to 2,524 homes during the first 9 months of 2000. Based on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), sales totaled approximately 5,900 homes in the first 9 months of 2000, down 4 percent from last year.

The apartment market also has been active. From 1996 through 1998, permits were issued for an average of 2,260 multifamily units annually. Developers scaled back activity in 1999 to 1,193 units, but during the first 9 months of 2000, 1,471 units were authorized. With the increased production, the previously tight rental housing market conditions in the Omaha area have eased, and the apartment vacancy rate during the spring of 2000 climbed to 6.6 percent, according to the Nebraska Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management. The fall survey is expected to reveal a decline in vacancy rate to approximately 6 percent. Rents essentially were unchanged during the 12-month period, with contract rents in the spring 2000 survey averaging $583 for a two-bedroom apartment, compared with $581 in the spring 1999 survey.

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