The Fort Smith regional economy continues to provide evidence of progress, according to the report released July 3 by the Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.
The Monthly Economic Indicators Index report revealed that the latest data on retail and auto sales, residential real estate and airport traffic numbers showed gains for the month, while employment was again weaker, according to Dr. Kermit Kuehn of Fort Smith, CBRED director.
According to the latest data, May auto sales were up 19 percent from 2011, bringing year-to-date activity near 2011 levels. Total new and used unit sales were just below the previous five-year average for May, suggesting 2012 is shaping up to be another solid year for the sector. April retail sales were up a respectable 3.7 percent. Year-to-date numbers are up nearly 4.5 percent over last year.
Airport passenger traffic counts offer additional support for the case that economic activity in the economy is generally improving. Total passenger traffic was 10 percent higher than May 2011 and is up 12.7 percent year-to-date.
“If it wasn’t for the sour jobs numbers, one could definitely say things are better than a year ago at this time,” Kuehn said of the May report. “With summer-like temperatures already upon us, one can hope the summer grind will not be mirrored by our economy.”
The report reveals that residential construction permit activity was higher for the month, up 45 percent, but year-to-date numbers are 25 percent lower than last year. Home sales were up modestly in May, rising 2.4 percent from last year.
The May unemployment rate was unchanged from a year ago at 7.7 percent, but total non-farm headcounts were again lower overall for the month. According to the report, no sector reported improvement from May 2011. The total number of non-farm jobs in the Fort Smith region declined by 4.3 percent, or 5,000 jobs, from a year ago, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics non-seasonally adjusted data.
“This summer looks to be a repeat of last year in many ways, hot weather matched with an uncertain economy,” Kuehn said.