|Skip to content
The Ninth District economy displayed solid growth since the last report. Growth
was evident in consumer spending, manufacturing, real estate, construction,
tourism, agriculture, energy, and mining. Employment growth was evident since
the last report, and contacts report difficulty finding skilled workers. Meanwhile,
wages grew moderately. Significant price increases were noted in fuel and certain
Consumer Spending and Tourism
Consumer spending showed solid growth. A major Minneapolis-based retailer reported
same-store sales up 9 percent in June compared with a year ago. Sales were up
between 5 percent and 10 percent from a year ago at a mall in North Dakota,
and the first week in July was "huge," according to the mall manager.
Recent apparel sales were described as outstanding at a mall in Montana. A Minneapolis-St.
Paul area mall manager reported sales and traffic were up in the single digits
for June compared with a year ago.
During the past couple of months, import car sales were about even with a
year ago in Minnesota, while domestic brand sales were down. However, during
the past few weeks, price discounts have helped boost domestic brand sales,
according to a Minnesota auto dealer. New incentives also aided sales in North
Dakota, according to a representative of an auto dealers association.
Summer tourism picked up by early July. In South Dakota, tourism activity
started slowly in early June, but showed strength by early July, including strong
attendance at Mt. Rushmore on the Fourth of July, according to a tourism official.
Some resort owners and retailers in northwestern Wisconsin said they had the
best Fourth of July weekend yet. A Montana tourism official said the summer
tourism season so far has been good and is expected to continue. In Minnesota,
tourism in June was steady or showing slow growth compared with last year, according
to an official. Business travel is growing after several years of decreases,
a particular boost to Minneapolis-St. Paul area hospitality businesses.
Construction and Real Estate
Overall, construction grew since the last report. In June, housing units authorized
were up 5 percent for the Minneapolis-St. Paul area from a year earlier, which
indicated a recent spike after a slow start to the year's building season.
The value of newly permitted residential and commercial construction projects
in Rochester, Minn., was up significantly in June from last year; however, the
number of permits issued was down 12 percent from last year. Bank directors
from North Dakota and Montana described residential and commercial construction
Real estate showed signs of increased activity. Commercial markets were picking
up. Office and industrial sales for 2005 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area are
forecast to reach $1.4 billion, compared to $1.2 billion for last year. Office
vacancy declined throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul, with industrial absorption
at its highest levels since 2000. Developers in Marquette, Mich., reported that
commercial and retail vacancy rates were down dramatically. Residential real
estate markets were solid. There is practically no inventory in the parts of
Montana and North Dakota experiencing an oil boom. Bank directors from North
Dakota and Montana reported home prices up by 8 percent to 10 percent, with
increases as high as 20 percent in oil-rich areas. June home sales in Minneapolis-St.
Paul were down 4.4 percent from last year, but remained at a high level with
prices up 5 percent and pending home sales up 3.2 percent.
Manufacturing activity expanded. A June survey of purchasing managers by Creighton
University (Omaha, Neb.) indicated increased manufacturing activity in Minnesota
and the Dakotas. In northern Minnesota, a paper mill and a metal processing
plant are planning to expand. In western Wisconsin, a furnace company plans
to build a new production facility. However, a foundry in North Dakota recently
shut down and a maker of semiconductor testing machines in Minnesota plans to
Energy and Mining
Activity in the energy sector was up slightly, and increased in the mining sector.
A refinery in Montana plans to invest $325 million to upgrade its facilities.
Several wind energy farms and three ethanol plants are under construction in
district states. Oil and gas exploration and production were about level from
early June through early July. Mines across the district are producing at near
full capacity, and maintenance activity is occurring without the usual complete
shutdowns. Expansions at several mines are in the permitting stage, and exploration
activity is in full swing across the district.
Economic activity in the agricultural sector increased. Warm, dry weather aided
crop development in the district. Yields and production for the South Dakota
winter wheat crop are up from a year ago. In Montana, 84 percent of the winter
wheat crop is rated good to excellent, significantly above the five-year average
of 36 percent. Row crop progress increased rapidly during the first half of
July. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects corn prices in 2005/06 to
average $1.70 to $2.10, up 15 cents on each end from last month's projection.
The USDA also increased its price projections for soybeans and expects cattle
and dairy prices to remain at strong levels. However, the Montana sweet cherry
crop is forecast to decrease 45 percent from last year.
Employment, Wages, and Prices
Employment growth was evident since the last report, and contacts noted difficulty
finding workers for some jobs. In Montana, a recently reopened copper-and-silver
mine has hired 150 employees, while another mine has hired 50 more workers.
In South Dakota, construction recently began on a cooling system and heat exchanger
plant that will eventually create 150 jobs, and a new filter production line
recently created 26 jobs. A health insurance group recently reported it will
hire 100 more workers in Minnesota. A temporary employment agency in the Minneapolis-St.
Paul area noted that demand was up from three months ago, particularly for specialized
jobs such as accounting and human resources. A bank director in northeastern
Montana reported that available contractors and carpenters are hard to find.
Some bankers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area recently noted a short supply
of quality commercial banking professionals. A temporary staffing agency survey
of Minneapolis-St. Paul businesses found that 24 percent of respondents expect
to increase employment during the third quarter of 2005, while 9 percent expect
to make reductions.
Employment reductions included a boat producer in Minnesota that laid off
about 145 workers due to slow demand. Restructuring at a Minnesota-based travel
company will affect about 200 jobs in the state.
Wage increases were moderate. A county board in northern Wisconsin recently
passed pay raises of 3 percent per year over three years for highway, forestry,
and sheriff's department employees. According to a recent survey of businesses
by the St. Cloud Area Quarterly Business Report, 44 percent of respondents expect
to increase employee compensation by November 2005; 53 percent expect no change
in compensation levels.
While overall price increases were moderate, significant price increases were
noted in fuel and certain construction materials. Mid-July gasoline prices in
Minnesota were 42 cents higher than a year ago, while recent jet fuel prices
were 56 percent higher and diesel fuel was 64 percent higher than last year.
Recent price increases were noted for some construction materials, including
asphalt, concrete, and roofing materials. However, steel prices have softened
since the last report.