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Missouri economic growth continues, but more slowly

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Expansions and new locations of targeted businesses tracked by the Missouri Department of Economic Development were up 55 percent in the state during 1998, and the state's economy continued to grow, but at a slower rate, according to the department's year-end report.

"Slow but steady growth has long been the strength of the Missouri economy," said Joseph L. Driskill, director of the DED. The year "saw a continuation of that trend, with broad-based economic stability throughout the state's economy."

Preliminary estimates for 1998 show that Missouri's unemployment rate remained at or near record lows in most regions, job growth continued on an upward trend, and the state's inflation rate was well below the national average.

Missourians' personal income increased in 1998, and the number of companies either expanding or building new facilities in the state also increased.

Missouri exports to foreign countries decreased for the first time in the 1990s and the gross state product the sum of all goods and services produced in the state grew at a slower rate than previously.

"Overall, Missouri's economy remains stable, with improvements in several key areas," according to a release from the Department of Economic Development, which offered the following statistics in its annual report.

New and expanding businesses. Businesses moving to or expanding in Missouri increased by 55 percent in 1998. An estimated 348 companies in industries targeted by the DED either expanded or opened new facilities in the state last year compared to 225 in 1997.

Business categories targeted and tracked by the department include business and financial services; chemicals and materials manufacturing; electronics and electrical equipment manufacturing; health products and services; information and media services; food processing; wood and paper products production; transportation equipment manufacturing; and tourism.

Unemployment. At 3.9 percent, Missouri's jobless rate is below the national average of 4.4 percent.

Job creation. Missouri had a net gain of 34,000 new jobs, with government, financial services, insurance, real estate, service and retail trade industries leading the pack. Manufacturing employment remained stable, with little or no change.

Inflation. Missouri's inflation rate was 1.5 percent, compared to the U.S. average of 1.7 percent in 1998.

Personal income. Missouri workers had personal income growth of about 5.1 percent, the same as the national average.

Gross product. The sum of all goods and services produced in Missouri grew about 2 percent to an estimated $155.4 billion. The gross national product grew by about 3.27 percent.

Exports. Missouri exports to foreign nations were down, closing the year at an estimated $6.6 billion, a drop of 12.4 percent. Nationally, exports were down about 2 percent. The decrease was due, in part, to the Asian financial crisis, according to the DED.

"Generally speaking, Missouri's year-end economic statistics are good news for Missourians," Driskill said. "First of all, Missouri's gross state product continues to grow albeit slowly in spite of the fact that many Missouri companies lost sales due to the Asian financial crisis. Meanwhile, demand for goods and services domestically continues to spur job growth, and more and more companies are choosing Missouri as a place to locate or grow a business."

The data will lead the state agency to redirect some of its activity in 1999.

"For instance, upcoming export efforts will focus on markets other than southeast Asia," a release from the DED said. "In 1999, plans include establishing new trade relations with emerging markets in Africa that, many experts believe, will be the 'Asian Tiger' nations of the next decade."

Though manufacturing will remain a focus of business attraction, the department said it is only part of the picture. Efforts to attract new employers and encourage current employers in high-tech fields, such as biotechnology and telecommunications, will be intensified.

"Overall, 1998's economic statistics reflect a stable but growing economy in Missouri, with excellent future prospects," Driskill said. "With a concerted effort focusing on the growth industries of the future, we believe that Missouri's economic successes will continue well into the next century."

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