April 19, 2012
Bloomington regional economy showing growth in several categories
By Rod Spaw
April 19, 2012
Presenters didn't have to look hard to find positive economic news at Wednesday's second annual State of the Bloomington Regional Economy.
They saw good news all around in vacancy rates, housing sales, job projections and total economic output for the Bloomington Metropolitan Statistical Area, which consists of Monroe, Greene and Owen counties.
"Let's stop talking about the recession," said Mark Brown, senior vice president for finance and research with the Indiana Association of Realtors, who was one of four presenters at the event. "Let's start talking about growth again."
The picture wasn't all rosy, but there were positives aplenty to accentuate at the event hosted by the Bloomington Economic Development Corp.
Most of the good news involved Monroe County, which was the only one of the three MSA counties forecast to grow in population this decade, and which accounts for 83 percent of the total economic output for the region. Monroe also was the only one of the three counties that had experienced fairly steady employment during the past three years, according to data presented Wednesday.
By contrast, employment in Owen County was down about 10 percent over the three years, according to the presentation, and Greene County had a 15 percent dip in employment, despite positive growth at Westgate at Crane, an office and technology park for defense contractors doing work for the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.
Jerry Conover, director of the Indiana Business Research Center, said the area's total economic output was forecast to grow a little more than 2 percent this year, after dropping 1.6 percent in 2011.
He said the strongest sectors for employment last year were private education and health services, while the biggest drop occurred in the governmental sector, which he said included public schools and hospitals.
Presenters found better news in residential real estate, which Brown said was showing upward momentum again, even if numbers still are below pre-recession peaks. Brown said the first three months of 2012 have been encouraging, with total sales up nearly 8 percent compared with the same period in 2011, and the median sales price is up 3.6 percent over the first quarter of last year.
"We've been seeing very positive signs in the last few months," he said.
Dave Harstad, senior vice president and managing broker of Summit Realty Group, said Monroe County was able to drop its industrial vacancy rate below 8 percent last year, resulting from the sale or lease of 18 vacant or partially vacant buildings.
"Having vacant space for manufacturing is not something we have here," he said. "Under-utilized industrial space is being absorbed."
Ron Walker, president of the BEDC, revealed details of a survey of 18 of the region's life sciences companies, which indicated 50 percent of that plan to expand or invest capital in the next two years.
He said those companies also indicated they expect to add more than 1,000 new full-time, part-time or temporary positions within that period.
"I think we all can agree a recovery is under way, and, at least right now, it's headed in the right direction," Walker said.