Wage and salary employment in the Great Plains region increased by 111,400 jobs, or 1.8 percent, from November 1997 to November 1998. Missouri added the most jobs (38,200), followed by Kansas (32,400). The 3-percent unemployment rate in the region remained almost unchanged from 12 months earlier. Nebraska continues to have the lowest unemployment rate: 2 percent for November 1998. In the St. Louis metropolitan area, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent in November, the lowest rate since 1973.
Homebuilding in the region continues at a strong pace, with single-family building permits for 1998 up more than 12 percent to 45,230 homes. All four States and the major market areas recorded increases. The Omaha and St. Louis metropolitan areas saw increases of 7 and 10 percent, respectively. The Kansas City metropolitan area recorded a 9-percent increase to 10,147 homes for 1998.
Multifamily building permit activity in the region totaled 17,872 units during 1998, down 7 percent from 1997. Kansas City metropolitan-area multifamily permit activity was down 11 percent.
Sales of both new and existing homes in the Great Plains were very strong in 1998. The annual rate of existing home sales in 1998 in the region was up more than 13 percent to 293,100. The St. Louis metropolitan area experienced an outstanding year in resales. Existing home sales increased 16 percent over 1997 volume, and the average sales price gained 6 percent to $140,121. According to the Lincoln Board of REALTORS®, sales in the Lincoln metropolitan area increased 16 percent over 1997, and the average sales price was up 8 percent to $114,783. In the Omaha metropolitan area, the Omaha Board of REALTORS® reported 7,980 sales in 1998, up 4 percent from 1997. The average sales price was $125,679, a 7-percent gain over a year earlier.
The rental housing vacancy rates in both the Kansas City and Omaha areas increased slightly during 1998 as high volumes of new units entered the market. The rental market in the St. Louis area continues to tighten, and vacancy rates fell to 5 percent at year's end.
The St. Louis metropolitan area is showing interest in senior housing, especially developments offering a continuum of care from independent living to nursing care. In 1998, 300 units were completed in the area, and 10 other projects with approximately 800 total units are currently under construction or about to start construction.
Spotlight on Des Moines, Iowa
Since 1990, wage and salary employment growth in the Des Moines metropolitan area has averaged a healthy 2.3 percent annually. The unemployment rate in November 1998 was an extremely low 2 percent. The Des Moines area is headquarters to more than 60 insurance companies. Agribusiness has also experienced significant growth, with a number of expansions by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Kemin Industries, Monsanto, Optimum Quality Grains, and Diamond Animal Health.
Des Moines is investing heavily in its infrastructure to ensure that growth will continue. By 2003 the beltway around Des Moines will be completed. Along with the rebuilding of Interstate 235 through the heart of the city, this will improve traffic movement. The Des Moines International Airport is undergoing improvements to complement recent additions to the terminal and the planned expansion of its runways. Des Moines and West Des Moines are jointly building a water treatment plant.
Des Moines plans to spend $27.2 million on improvements along Fleur Drive, which connects the airport on the west side to the State Capitol on the east side. This project, known as the Gateway, will contribute to green space and beautification efforts. Also in downtown Des Moines, AMC Entertainment, Inc., has committed to develop a 20-screen movie complex along with restaurants and retail shops in the historic Court Avenue district.
In 1998, 8,061 homes were sold in the Des Moines area, an increase of almost 11 percent over 1997. The average sales price for a home in 1998 was $121,400. From 1992 through 1997, single-family building permit activity in the area had been relatively stable, averaging 2,232 units annually. In 1998 activity increased to 2,742 units. There are currently 10 major new single-family developments within the metropolitan area.
Multifamily housing building permits averaged 1,232 units annually from 1993 through 1996. However, as the rental market became more competitive, activity during 1997 and 1998 fell to fewer than 500 units annually. The apartment vacancy rate during 1998 was 9 percent. In addition to the increased inventory of new units, the high rental vacancy rate is also due to a robust sales market for first-time buyers. Rental market conditions are expected to improve during the coming year.
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