By MAGGIE KIELY
Bryan-College Station's economy is continuing the slide it began in January, but local officials note signs of improvement in some sectors.
The region's economic index, which was started in January 2000 with a baseline of 100, fell from 120.6 in July to 119.7 in August. The index is down about 5.5 percent from August 2008.
The index, calculated by Amarillo economist Karr Ingham based on data from a number of economic sectors, reached its peak at 127.4 in December and has been on the decline since.
Ingham's study was conducted as a result of a partnership between Commerce National Bank and The Eagle.
Glen Davis, executive vice president and chief credit officer at Commerce National Bank, said the decline didn't come as a surprise and was a natural consequence of the national recession.
"Comparatively speaking, our economy is more resilient than the state and national economies," he said. "I think it's a testament to our community."
On a positive note, Davis said, compared to August 2008, housing permits are up about
71 percent, the unemployment rate has decreased about 1 percent and automobile sales are up about 8 percent, which, he said, can probably be attributed to the federal Cash for Clunkers program intended to promote auto sales.
"Hopefully, these are leading indicators for a turnaround," he said. "The positives I see [are that] we're still in a low interest-rate environment and credit is readily available in the community."
Davis said the fact that housing prices have remained relatively stable even though the number of houses sold has decreased was also a good sign.
Ingham said he expected housing prices to decrease somewhat in Bryan-College Station but didn't expect a resulting hit to the economy.
"I wouldn't be overly concerned with a modest decline in home sales prices," Ingham said. "It doesn't bother me to see a little cooling off in that sector."
A decline in the area's economic index is expected to continue at least through the rest of the year, Davis said.
"The Bryan-College Station economy had a lag going into the recession, so I think it's reasonable to expect we're going to lag coming out," he said. "The timing is somewhat contingent on how quickly the national economy rebounds."