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Many signs point way to recovery

There was a time when you wouldn’t have given a second thought to “help wanted” signs posted at area restaurants and stores. The Great Recession cured us of that. Now the signs are welcome indications that the economy is finally improving.

There are better measures, however:

•New figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show that manufacturing, real estate, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting contributed to increases in the gross domestic product in 49 states last year. Indiana, with an increase of 2.1 percent, performed better than the national average of 1.8 percent.

•The state’s jobless rate for April fell to 5.7 percent, its lowest since its pre-recession mark in July 2008. In the past year it has decreased by 2.1 points, surprising economic analysts who predicted it would be stable or fall slightly.

•A wage and benefit survey recently completed in DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties found 89 percent of the 72 employers surveyed reported hiring within the last six months, with nearly 1,700 new hires. Sixty-four percent plan to increase employment this year, and 38 percent believe they will hire in 2015 as well. Almost 90 percent reported wage increases in the last 12 months, and 86 percent plan on increasing wages again next year.

•Bluffton’s Metaldyne is set to invest $8.2 million in new equipment and hire 13 employees, while Guardian Automotive Products in Auburn held a hiring event last week to fill 63 production jobs created by business growth and new products and technology. Triton Metals Products in Hamilton will invest $2.3 million in new equipment.

•Fort Wayne officials announced last week that the city is the only Indiana community to receive funding in the latest round of New Markets Tax Credits. The city will receive $33 million in federal credits created to encourage economic development in low-income areas. Interested investors already are contacting Fort Wayne officials about the credits, which can be sold to finance eligible projects. New Markets credits approved in 2008 were used to help finance The Harrison, the mixed-use development adjacent to Parkview Field.

“This highly sought-after funding gives us a significant competitive advantage when working to attract investment and jobs to our community,” Sharon Feasel, director of the Fort Wayne New Markets Revitalization Fund LLC, told The Journal Gazette’s Dan Stockman. “The phone’s been ringing steadily.”

Those economic points of light are encouraging, but they don’t shine evenly over all of the state or even over all of northeast Indiana.

Only 18 Indiana counties in 2012 had median household incomes higher than the national average, according to U.S. Census figures. Five of the top six surround Indianapolis and Marion County, while four others are adjacent to the thriving economic centers of Chicago and Cincinnati.

State revenue reports also show that Hoosiers continue to struggle. Individual income tax collections for April fell $22 million – more than 7 percent – below estimate even as corporate income tax collections came in nearly 45 percent above the estimate. State income tax collections for the fiscal year, which ends this month, have fallen by $106.2 million over last year’s figures.

Efforts to ensure economic opportunity is available to all communities, not just those in Marion County and its environs, should be a top priority. When economic improvement reaches all corners of the region and state, we all can begin to take those “help wanted” signs for granted once again.