The state and regional economies strengthened in the latest Creighton University survey of business managers across Iowa and eight other Midwestern states. Creighton economist Ernie Goss says the bounding gasoline prices are making consumers and investors skittish, and it’s causing a ripple effect.

“We’re going to see an up-and-down stock market, an up-and-down market because of situations outside the U.S.,” Goss says. “In what was Tunisia, then Egypt, now it’s moved to Libya. Where is the next shoe going to drop? That’s going to have some impacts.” It marks the 14th straight month that Iowa’s economic picture climbed above what’s called “growth neutral,” or continued to strengthen. For the region, Goss says several manufacturing segments are growing, with one in particular.

“Anything connected to agriculture,” Goss says. “It’s dirt to dinner, and boy, it’s a lot to do with dirt. It’s just growing. Job growth is a lot better in the non-urban areas. That’s not necessarily rural but non-urban, not the big cities as we think of them.” Even though the state has started adding durable manufacturing jobs at a healthy pace, the manufacturing sector has still lost almost 25,000 jobs, or about 10% of its employment base since the beginning of the recession.

The Creighton surveys over the past several months have been pointing to job expansions for durable and nondurable manufacturing and the overall economy well into the third quarter of this year, Goss says. “New hiring was pretty good for the month of February,” Goss says. “Again, urban not as good as non-urban. Anything to do with agriculture, very good. Anything to do with exports, very good.”

Creighton has conducted the monthly survey in nine states since 1994 to produce leading economic indicators of the Mid-America economy. States included are: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.