St. Cloud area economic recovery has begun as year-over-year regional employment has grown and surveyed local firms project strong business activity. While the pandemic appears to have created scars in the local economy that plague some of our local service sectors, many area firms continue to report challenges that are typically associated with rapid expansion—labor shortages, price increases, accelerating wage growth, etc. Data released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) indicate St. Cloud area employment increased 4.3 percent over the twelve months ending July 2021. However, employment in the Stearns-Benton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is still 4,655 (4.4 percent) below its level two years ago. Recent job growth has been generally positive across most local sectors, but the leisure/hospitality and financial activities sectors saw a reduction in workers employed over the past twelve months. While financial activities employment has declined statewide, St. Cloud is the only region to see a current decline in leisure/hospitality sector employment. Employment in this sector is now 18.4 percent below its level in July 2019, compared to a decline of 10.4 percent statewide. The St. Cloud Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 2.1% in the recent period and 10.3% in the last year as the local economy continues to rebound from the trough of the recession that ended in April 2020. Current business activity at surveyed firms continued to be strong compared to what is normally seen at this time of year. 60 percent of surveyed firms report an increase in business activity over the past three months and only 17 percent of firms experienced a decrease in activity over the past quarter. The future outlook of surveyed firms is also improved as local companies expect better business conditions over the next six months. In special questions, 43 percent of surveyed firms are either “greatly concerned” or “is our greatest concern” that the decline in labor force participation that has occurred since the onset of COVID is permanent. Also, one-third of surveyed businesses indicate the possibility that the recent increase in economywide inflation rates is not temporary is either a great concern or their greatest concern. In a final special question, only 12 percent of surveyed firms consider it to be likely or extremely likely that their firm will use cryptocurrencies for transactions within the next five years.
Banaian, King and Macdonald, Richard, "St. Cloud Area Quarterly Business Report, Vol. 23, No. 3" (2021). St. Cloud Area Quarterly Business Report. 92.