Consumers are still saving the day for the U.S. economy, an observer states, but other indicators of business activity bear watching before nagging concerns over the potential for a downturn can be shelved.
That was among the central messages delivered Wednesday by Esther George. The Faucett, Missouri, native represents a seven-state Kansas City region on the Federal Reserve Bank. George, who is the region’s president, spoke before an audience of about 270 people gathered at Missouri Western for the 2019 St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Summit.
George’s opinions were expressed under the title “Economic Conditions and the Economy.” This year, she serves as a voting member with the Federal Open Market Committee. The panel deliberates monetary policy and weighs the merits of adjusting interest rates based on a best read of existing economic factors.
Researching those major decisions includes sounding out groups such as labor and agriculture that are integral to a more than $20 trillion economy. George said the agricultural sector continues a struggle that germinated in 2014 with a drop-off in peak commodity prices. The impasse between the U.S. and China on trade matters is flowing down to farmers’ livelihoods, with no end in sight.
“Losing an export market like China is going to hurt the ag economy,” George told the chamber members. “We hear that regularly.”
She said farmers do obtain some assistance from subsidies for their operations, but would rather rely on finding markets for their exports. Economists in the Reserve’s Omaha, Nebraska, office are closely monitoring activity in the rural economy, she added.
Despite such concerns, George said her overall picture of the economy is favorable, and bases that appraisal on the health of one other sector.
“The economy looks pretty good,” she said. “How is the consumer faring? That is what drives the U.S. economy. We’re buying long-term goods and houses. Right now, by and large, the consumer is confident.”
The economy should keep growing this year by 2 percent, she said, and inflation is staying slow and stable during the expansion. Yet a sluggish global economy could impinge the domestic gains.
“The rest of the world is slowing down,” said George. “That reduces the demand for our exports.”
In another area, employment, low numbers of joblessness still require a careful review.
“Our work force is shrinking,” said George, noting a lack of a sizable replacement pool that will become a policy issue.
“It looks like we’re going to have a tight labor market for some time to come,” she said. “Productivity has not been very high as in the past.”
Stalled trade talks between the U.S. and China are contributing to the global economic decline. George stated that the U.S. should remain immune to those consequences as long as consumers keep spending. Any slowdown in consumer spending could result from concerns over the vibrancy of pensions and retirement plans.
The Fed’s action in late July, cutting the benchmark policy rate a quarter of a point to a range of 2% to 2.25%, met with dissent from George, who viewed the move as premature given her assessment of the economy.
“I did not think it was necessary to pull the trigger,” she told the chamber.
Business interests have told her that lowering the interest rate doesn’t ease their uncertainty.
“The other thing we increasingly hear is businesses are having to deal with an uncertainty associated with trade policy in the United States,” she said. Re-route and find other markets. Or they are simply waiting to see how this will be resolved. For now, businesses are slowing down.”
The Fed will meet again in mid-September to once again ponder what may need to happen with interest rates.
A Missouri law that went into effect Wednesday officially allows St. Joseph to create a Land Bank.
House Bill 821, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph, was signed by Gov. Mike Parson at St. Joseph’s City Hall on June 11 of this year, to go into effect as law on Aug. 28.
It gave the city the ability to create a public board, separate from the city government, to be in charge of acquiring properties sold in the county’s delinquent tax sale or through donations and then selling them to private owners to be redeveloped.
On Monday, the City Council approved five nominations to serve on the Land Bank board put forth by Mayor Bill McMurray:
Tara Horn — County auditor and Realtor
Frank Leone — Realtor
James Robinson — Chairman of the Board for Nodaway Valley Bank
Steve Briggs — Attorney
David Bradley — CEO of News-Press and Gazette Co.
Those five approved by the Council will join Terry McClatchey and Gabe Edgar, appointed by Buchanan County and the St. Joseph School District, respectively, to form a seven-member board.
St. Joseph Director of Planning and Community Development Clint Thompson, who will work with the Land Bank, said the group likely will hold their first meeting in the next two weeks.
He said the next step is to identify possible properties to purchase.
“The city is working with the county to determine what properties did not sell at the tax sale,” Thompson said. “City staff will then put that information into a program and determine which properties may be of interest to begin working with.”
The city will provide funding to purchase initial properties, but the Land Bank will eventually support itself through property sales.
An advisory committee will be formed to work with the City Council and Land Bank in order to make recommendations to each.
That committee will have nine members, each nominated by a City Council member and the mayor. Thompson said that committee has not yet been formed, though some names have been put forth.
Just two years ago, St. Joseph was ranked in the top 10 metropolitan areas in the United States for car thefts. And while exact numbers aren't out yet for 2019, car thefts are clearly a problem.
According to Buchanan County Sheriff's Captain Tiger Parsons, his department recovers a stolen and burned-out vehicle about once a week.
"They're not stealing them to sell them," Parsons said. "They drive it out into the county and they set it on fire."
He said thieves usually will target the easiest vehicles to steal, those with keys still in the ignition or car, and then go for a joyride.
"They run from the police two or three times, they may commit a few crimes in it. And then when they're done with it, it has no monetary value," Parsons said.
Not even the city of St. Joseph's vehicles are immune from the problem. On Monday, a city sewer truck was stolen and then recovered early Tuesday morning in a rural part of the county. Parsons said the reason for the theft was likely the most obvious: The keys were left in the car and it was stolen for a joyride.
"People think that we have a car theft ring going in St. Joe," Parsons said. "We have a bunch of youngsters, or maybe young adults, taking people's cars as a crime of opportunity."
St. Joseph resident Chance Barnes couldn't care less about the reason the thefts are happening, he just wants them to stop. Barnes said just a few days ago, he discovered a stolen car stashed on his brother's property. Turns out, the car was a Honda Civic that belonged to an elderly woman.
"I was pretty pissed," Barnes said. "Who steals from an old lady? She can't defend herself."
"Maybe it's just where I live, but this town is full of trash," he added.
Barnes said he's had several run-ins with would-be thieves. He installed a high-end camera system to document the issues, and recorded a man using a baseball bat to swat the camera, a man peeking into a car inside his carport and in one extraordinary instance, the cameras captured Barnes tackling a would-be thief.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Many of the laws enacted by Missouri legislators this year went into effect Wednesday, but some of the most notable are tied up in legal disputes that will delay their implementation or kill them altogether.
A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a law meant to ban abortions at or after eight weeks of pregnancy, saying that Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri are likely to succeed in their effort to have the law ruled unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs let stand the portion of the law banning abortions based solely on race, sex or a diagnosis indicating the potential for Down syndrome, and that provision took effect Wednesday.
Earlier this month, a judge blocked a new law from taking effect, at least until a Sept. 16 hearing, that would shield large farms from stringent local health rules. The law would prevent local officials from enacting more stringent regulations than the state on large farms that raise hogs, poultry and cattle.
Among the laws that were taking effect Wednesday were ones affecting car inspections and prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.
Hundreds of Missouri prisoners serving mandatory sentences for largely nonviolent offenses will become eligible for parole. The new law exempts some nonviolent offenses from a state law requiring people to serve at least 40%, 50% or 80% of their prison terms, depending on their number of previous prison convictions. The law could make some prisoners immediately eligible for parole, probation or early release.
The legislation also addresses courts that charge people who are arrested for the cost of holding them in jail. It prohibits payment of such jail debts from being made a condition of probation and bars people from being arrested and put back in jail for not paying previous jail costs.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in March that local courts can’t put people in jail for not paying previous jail debts.
Vehicles with fewer than 150,000 miles that are no more than 10 years old will be exempt from state vehicle safety inspections. But fees for driver’s licenses, vehicle registration, title transfers and similar services will increase.
There will be tighter restrictions on unlicensed in-home child care providers, who have been limited to caring for up to four children who aren’t related to them and an unlimited number of children who are. The new law sets the limit at six children, total, and no more than three kids under the age of 2. The law exempts only school-age relatives.
The pawpaw tree is now the Missouri’s official fruit tree and the hellbender salamander is its official endangered species. The state now has an official tartan, which has a crisscrossing design of blue, brown and silver.
BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR SCHOOL VOLUNTEERS
All Missouri school volunteers who might at any time be alone with students will have to undergo full criminal background checks.
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