The Associated Press March 17, 2011, 7:14PM ET

Midwest, Plains bankers: Rural economy will grow

The economy in rural areas of 10 Midwest and Plains states will continue growing in the next few months, according to a new monthly survey of bankers released Thursday.

The overall Rural Mainstreet economic index increased to an optimistic 56.7 in March from February's 55.3. Anytime the index, which ranges from 0 to 100, is over 50, it suggests the economy will expand over the next six months.

Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, said growth in the overall economy is helping the region, and farming remains strong.

Bankers in rural parts of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming are surveyed.

Goss said the farm equipment sales index jumped to 75.9 in March from February's already-high 63.5. And the farmland price index registered at 75 in March, down slightly from February's 75.9.

"Farm implement producers and dealers are experiencing a banner year as farmers spend their higher income," Goss said.

But Cameron Mathis, of the Tilden Bank in Creighton, Neb., is concerned that this year's escalating fuel prices will cut into farm income.

For the fourth month in a row, the region's jobs index remained in positive territory in March at 56.2, so companies are hiring. That's up from February's 52.5.

"Rural areas are clearly outpacing the urban areas in terms of job growth," Goss said. But the region still has about 206,000 fewer jobs than it did before the Great Recession.

The bankers appear quite confident about the economy. The confidence index declined slightly to 65.2 in March from February's 70.9.

The March home sales index increased to 52.3 from 44 in February.

The loan volume index grew to 47.1 in March from February's 39. The checking deposit index increased to 68.7 in March from February's 67.8.

And the index for savings instruments declined to 45.5 in March from February's 50.8.

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Online:

Creighton University economic surveys: http://www2.creighton.edu/business/economicoutlook


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