The Fort Smith regional economy appeared to weaken some in October, according to the report released Nov. 30 by the Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
The Monthly Economic Indicators Index report revealed an economy that showed signs of slowing in October after a promising September report. The latest numbers indicate that residential construction permits, employment and airport traffic counts were all lower last month relative to a year ago. October home sales were flat, but auto sales were higher. Retail sales for September were up slightly year-over-year.
CBRED director Dr. Kermit Kuehn said retail sales were essentially unchanged for September, following a solid performance in August. Year to date, retail sales are still running 3.1 percent ahead of 2011.
The report revealed that home sales and residential construction permit activity also reflected weakness in October. Construction permits were down over 35 percent, while home sales were the same as they were at this time in 2011.
The housing sector continues to show weakness, according to Kuehn. The number of residential units sold and permits issued continue to run below year-to-date totals for 2011. However, the average price of homes sold has been noticeably higher than a year ago, suggesting that higher-priced homes were selling than was the case last year at this time.
The October unemployment rate of 7.9 percent was the same as a year ago, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The jobs picture continues to be sluggish.
According to the BLS, the overall non-farm employment for the Fort Smith MSA of 110,900 people employed reflected 800 fewer jobs in the MSA relative to 2011.
For the fifth month in a row, the manufacturing sector recorded year-over-year improvement in headcounts for October, up 2.7 percent. Trade, transportation and utilities, and leisure and hospitality sectors also showed improvement for the month.
“I was actually expecting a stronger performance for the regional economy this month.” Kuehn said of the October report. “While there are bright spots in the report, there were areas that continued to vacillate between good months and bad.”
Kuehn noted that a full review of the state and regional economy will be presented during the Dec. 12 Economic Forum luncheon to be held on the UAFS campus. The forum is sponsored by Arvest and tickets for the event must be purchased through the Fort Smith Regional Chamber.