Weather Forecast


Hopeful signs for the economy

Economic indicators -- regionally and nationally -- continue to look brighter. While the regional economy on the North Dakota side of the Red River has weathered the economic downturn relatively well, the improving national picture is hopeful news for recession-battered Minnesota.

Two stories from Fargo suggest the local economy's basic strength has not been eroded. Fargo is one of the few cities in the nation that has seen an increase in construction jobs, according to the Association of General Contractors of America. The metro area gained 100 construction jobs, which might not sound like a lot. But when compared to the losses of similar jobs in other cities, Fargo-Moorhead is doing quite well in the construction sector.

The other local news story came out of West Fargo a few days ago. West Fargo has a concentration of manufacturing jobs, many of them in companies that depend on robust exports. When the national and global economies sank into recession, the markets for those companies' products softened. Jobs were lost in West Fargo and other North Dakota cities that host export-dependent manufacturers.

But the picture in West Fargo is brightening. City officials indicated that several companies that experienced layoffs in 2009 might be rehiring this year. At least two of West Fargo's manufacturers -- Trail King Industries and DMI -- expect moderate improvement. Trail King makes specialized trailers; DMI makes wind generator towers.

Observers of the national economy also are cautiously optimistic, citing "pent-up demand" as one factor that could spur manufacturing.

Also, recent economic indicators reveal trends that are cause for optimism. For example, the consumer price index has been rising slightly for several months. The unemployment rate, while still high, edged downward in November. Productivity rose for three months straight, led by manufacturing.

U.S. import and export indexes advanced in the past two months, suggesting the global recession is easing. And industrial production increased in November after being unchanged the month before.

No one expects an immediate economic turnaround. After all, it took some time for the economy to sink into one of the deepest recessions in history. Recovery will be uneven, with unemployment lagging, which is always the case in recoveries. But the trends look better than they have in many months. There is reason for optimism.

-- The Forum