OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The economy should continue growing steadily in nine Midwestern and Plains states, according to a monthly survey of business leaders released Tuesday.

The overall economic index for the region improved to 58.2 in March from 57.4 in February. That’s solidly above the neutral level of 50.

“Much like the national economy, the Mid-America region continues to expand with growth prospects improving monthly,” said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.

The monthly report covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The survey results from supply managers are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor, while a score below that suggests decline.

The confidence index remained at a strong 59 in March even if it slipped slightly from February’s 59.7, so business leaders are confident about their prospects in the next six months.

“Improvements in the job market supported supply managers’ business outlook,” Goss said.

The employment index declined to 54.4 in March from February’s 55.6 but remained in positive territory. But Goss said most managers expect wage growth to be weak at 1.8 percent for the next year.

The prices-paid index that tracks the cost of raw materials remained high but declined to 72.8 in March from February’s 75.7.

The inventory index slipped to 57.6 in March from February’s 59.7. Goss said that suggests businesses are expanding inventories in anticipation of increased sales.

The export index declined to 54.1 in March from February’s 55.4. The import index grew to 54.2 from 52.4 in February.

The other components of the overall March index were:

— New orders increased to 58.5 in March from February’s 53.4.
— Production or sales declined to 61.1 in March from 61.7 the previous month.
— Delivery lead time increased to 59.4 in March from 56.8 in February.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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