Iowa’s growing economy slowed in March as manufacturing jobs and wages remained below pre-pandemic levels, according to Creighton University’s Mid-American Business Conditions Index.

The index, released last week, showed that the index for Iowa declined to 66.5, down from 71.1 in February. Despite the decline, the state’s economy remained well above growth-neutral levels.

The index is a mathematical average of indexes for new orders, production or sales, employment, inventories, and delivery lead times. It ranges between zero and 100. An index greater than 50 indicates an expanding economy over the next three to six months.

For the nine-state region covered in the report, the overall index dipped slightly in March, slipping to 68.9 from 69.6 in February.

According to the report, while regional manufacturing is growing, supply bottlenecks and labor continue to restrain growth.

The report indicated that about 8 of 10 manufacturing supply managers reported that problems in receiving materials and supplies were curtailing what could be strong growth.

Despite those supply chain issues, the manufacturing sector is regaining jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic, said Ernie Goss, the director of Creighton University’s Economic Forecasting Group and the Jack A. MacAllister chair in regional economics.

“Since bottoming out in April, the region has regained almost 60,000 of the manufacturing jobs lost to COVID-19. Creighton’s monthly survey results indicate that the region is adding jobs and economic activity at a healthy pace, and that growth will remain healthy well into the second half of 2021,” Goss said in the report.

In Iowa, lagging growth contributed to the slip in the state’s index   in March, he said.

“Compared to pre-COVID-19 levels … Iowa manufacturing employment is down 3,600 jobs, or 1.6%, while average hourly manufacturing wages are 1.8% lower,” Goss said.

The report showed strong performance in the state’s other indxes.

The index for new orders was 74.5, production or sales was 75.6, and delivery lead time was  73.8. The indexes for employment and inventories ranked lower at 60.2 and 56.2 respectively.

Regional highlights from the March report include:
  • The regional employment index remained well above growth-neutral for March, but sank from 65.6 in February to 60.0 in March.
  • The wholesale inflation gauge for the month dipped slightly to 94.0 from February’s record high 95.2.
  • Economic optimism climbed to a solid 58.0 from February’s 50.0.
  • The regional inventory index, reflecting levels of raw materials and supplies, rose to 62.5 from last month’s 53.4. Despite supply chain bottlenecks, regional trade numbers were strong for the month.
  • New orders fell to 70.9 from 79.0 in February.
  • The production or sales index fell to a still strong 70.0 from February’s 76.6.
  • The index for the speed of deliveries of raw materials and supplies rocketed to 81.3, a record high, indicating rising supply delays, from last month’s 73.5.