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An increased pace of economic activity is expected in Northwest Minnesota over the next several months according to the predictions of the St. Cloud State University (SCSU) Northwest Minnesota Index of Leading Economic Indicators (LEI). While two of the five components of the leading index were lower in the first quarter, the LEI still increased by 5.49 points. A rise in the Rural Mainstreet Index (which signals a less challenging macroeconomic environment for rural America), lower initial jobless claims in the region, and a slight increase in Fargo/Moorhead and Grand Forks/East Grand Forks residential building permits helped drive the index higher in the first quarter.

There were 1,225 new business filings with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State in Northwest Minnesota in the first quarter of 2016 — representing an 11.2 percent increase from one year ago. 134 new regional business incorporations were recorded in the most recent quarter, a 14.5 percent increase from the same quarter in 2015. In the first quarter, new LLC filings in Northwest Minnesota were up 7.8 percent from one year earlier—increasing to 639. New assumed names totaled 397 in the first quarter—15.7 percent more filings than the same period in 2015. There were 55 new filings for Northwest Minnesota non-profits in the first quarter—six more filings than one year ago.

Employment of Northwest Minnesota residents increased by 1.1 percent over the year ending March 2016. The regional unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in March, significantly higher than one year ago. This is partly explained by a 1.7 percent increase in the Northwest Minnesota labor force over the past twelve months (4,667 more people are now in the regional labor force). Initial claims for unemployment insurance in March were 228 lower (a decrease of 11.8 percent) than in March 2015. Job vacancies per 100 unemployed were 65.03 in Northwest Minnesota in the fourth quarter of 2015. This is the lowest job vacancy rate in two years. The region’s total bankruptcies fell to their lowest level in several years.

The Fargo/Moorhead Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced a mixed economic performance over the past quarter. This MSA tallied gains in overall employment (but decreased manufacturing employment), steady hourly earnings, and a rise in the regional workforce. This was offset by reduced valuation of residential building permits, a lower average workweek, higher initial jobless claims, and an increased unemployment rate. Economic activity in the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks MSA was strong in the first quarter. Higher overall employment, a lower unemployment rate, a rising labor force, higher average hourly earnings, lower initial jobless claims and an increase in the value of residential building permits all contributed favorably to the overall economy. A decline in the length of the workweek was the only indicator that was negative in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks in the first quarter



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