Columbia’s growth over the years – Business – The Lake News Online
I was recently asked to be on a radio interview to talk about my perspective on the Columbia economy, which I have been following for the last 33 years. Following are some of the datapoints that emerged from that discussion.
When discussing the Columbia economy over the last 33 years, it all starts with our population growth, which has been steady if not spectacular. I say it starts with our population, because our economy is largely about providing goods and services and transportation and housing for our populace. When I moved here in 1987, the population was in the 66-67,000 range. The latest number I could find for population was the Census Bureau that estimated our population was 123,195 in 2019. My guess is this year’s census will show us in the 124-125,000 range. If you take the difference between the two, our population has grown by 58,000 or 87%, nearly doubling in the period covered. It is interesting when you contrast that with Jefferson City, the state capital 30 miles to the south. Jeff City had a population of around 34,000 in 1987 and the current estimate is 42,708. That is an increase of 8,708 or 26%. Clearly, Columbia’s population and economy have grown at a far greater rate.
Columbia employment in 1990 was 63,259 at the beginning of the year and our most recent employment number was 92,075 in July of this year. That said, employment peaked out at 98,180 in March of this year, just as the pandemic was taking hold. If you take the 98K number, our labor force increased by 34,921 over the last 30 years, an increase of 55%.
Our unemployment rate has always been relatively low and looking back over the last 30 years shows the following. Our peak unemployment over that time occurred in the June – August time frame in 2009 when it reached 7.2% and that occurred during the financial crisis. This year, our unemployment rate was running in the mid 2s and then jumped to 6.5% in April and May following the lockdown. It is down to 5.1% at the current time (July). The lowest unemployment rate I could find occurred in Oct. 1995 when it bottomed out at 1.3%. As recently as last Sept. – Oct. our local unemployment rate was 1.9%.
The University of Missouri has always been a primary driver for our local economy. I went back to 1960 and determined that the school has had two growth spurts in the last 60 years. In 1960, there were only 11,216 students on campus. By 1970, student enrollment had swelled to 21,687. That represented a nearly doubling of enrollment as it increased 10,471 students or 93%. The second surge in enrollment occurred more recently as the University went from 23,280 students in 2000 to 35,448 in 2015. Of course, enrollment declined since then and this fall is back up to 30,849. This fall represents the second year of increased enrollment since the problems in 2015. The size of the enrollment directly affects the number of professors and support staff to properly educate the students. Right now, approximately one of every eight people work for the University of Missouri and the associated hospital and clinics.
In 1987, there were 1,175 homes sold in Columbia. During the late 80s, 1,100 – 1,200 homes sold a year was the norm. In 2001, we surpassed 2000 homes sold for the first time. Since 2015, home sales in this market have been in a range of 2,100 – 2,300, although it looks like this year we will surpass the 2,400 level. Quietly, we are having a very solid housing market despite the pandemic. Of course, record low interest rates have a lot to do with that. The mortgage rates ranged from 9.25% to 11.25% in 1987, illustrating that point. Clearly, with today’s mortgage rates, affordability is much higher even though home prices have risen substantially.
In summary, Columbia has had steady growth over the years. That steady growth, coupled with our mostly growing education industry, has kept our labor market and housing market relatively healthy. Our unemployment rate continues to be the envy of most everyone in the state. Many of the numbers doubled or nearly doubled during the time frame covered.
Jeff MacLellan is retired from Landmark Bank. He spent 37 years in banking, and has been tracking local economic indicators since he came to Columbia in 1987.
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