Nonfarm employment in the Great Plains region declined by 1 percent to 6.4 million during the 12 months ending June 2003 compared with the same period ending June 2002. All states recorded declines in employment with Missouri registering the largest percentage loss, 1.9 percent. Every economic sector in the region recorded a decrease except finance, which was up 1 percent. The manufacturing and transportation sectors accounted for the largest number of losses, each down 2.5 percent during the 12-month period in part because of job losses at Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers in the region as well as problems at American Airlines.
Kansas City, St. Louis, and Wichita registered job losses of 2.2, 1.9, and 1.0 percent, respectively; but despite the losses the regional unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.5 percent for the 12-month period ending June 2003.
Low interest rates continued to stimulate the demand for new and existing homes throughout much of the region. Single-family building permits were issued for 26,000 homes during the first 6 months of 2003, up 13 percent from the same period a year ago. Iowa registered the largest rate of increase in the region, 27 percent. Among metropolitan areas Kansas City recorded the largest volume at approximately 6,000 homes, a 10-percent increase.
The existing home sales market in the Great Plains remained strong with all major metropolitan areas registering increases. According to local Realtors Kansas City-area home sales in the first 6 months of 2003 are up 9 percent compared with the first half of 2002, and the average sales price rose 4 percent to $143,400. Despite Wichitas struggling economy existing home sales increased 4 percent and the average sales price rose 1 percent to $98,166. In Omaha existing sales were up 12 percent to 3,764 units, and the average sales price was up 2 percent to $141,102. Sales were up 2 percent in Lincoln with a 5-percent increase in average sales price to $129,793.
Multifamily construction as measured by building permit activity continued a downward trend in the Great Plains due to increased competition from the housing sales market and weak employment conditions. There were 6,100 multifamily permits issued during the first 6 months of 2003, a 16-percent decline compared with the first half of 2002. All of the major metropolitan areas in the region posted declines except for Kansas City and Lincoln, which were up 7 and 23 percent, respectively. Conditions in the Great Plains rental markets have not changed appreciably in the past 12 months and range from balanced to soft. The rental vacancy rate in St. Louis was 8 percent as of June 2003. In Omaha and Wichita the current rates are estimated to be 7.5 and 9 percent, respectively. In the Kansas City area the market has shown some improvement as the apartment vacancy rate declined to 10 percent compared with 12 percent a year ago.
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