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Economic 'dashboard' for February shows 'troubling signs'

Kelly directs the UW- River Falls Center for Economic Research

RIVER FALLS -- Diminished sales tax revenues, lower median prices for recently-sold homes and continued employment doldrums indicate continued challenging times in the three-county St. Croix Valley area, according to two resident experts.

The UW- River Falls Center for Economic Research (CER) in partnership with St. Croix Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) released the March 2011 edition of the St. Croix Valley Economic Dashboard. The dashboard presents a snapshot of the economic condition of the labor, consumer and housing markets in the St. Croix-Polk-Pierce region.

Dr. Logan Kelly, director of the CER, conducts the research for the Dashboard project and offered his observations.

"The labor market is the big story in the March dashboard. The labor market in the St. Croix Valley exhibited some troubling signs in January (note that county level labor market data is always two months behind). While we saw a decrease in the unemployment rate from January 2010, total employment has decreased," said Kelly.

"Thus the decrease in the unemployment rate was caused by people leaving the labor market and not by people finding jobs. This is a contrast to total employment at the state level, which increased from one year ago. During the last twelve months, though, the labor market has been slowly recovering, so the setback indicated by January's data may only be temporary."

"Consumer confidence can tell a great deal about economic conditions," said William Rubin, executive director of SCEDC.

"County sales tax revenue for the 3-county region is down from one month ago and one year ago. Our residents, as consumers, appear to be spending less on taxable goods. Median home prices for recently-sold properties still reflect a difficult market," he said.

New vehicle registrations were up 45 percent over a year ago in St. Croix County and 22 percent in Polk, while Pierce slipped slightly over 2010. And while more homes were sold in Polk and St. Croix counties, median prices fell nearly 7- and 25 percent, respectively, versus last year.

Two of the three counties, St. Croix and Pierce, are included in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI metropolitan area, a 13-county region with of population of 3.25 million residents.