OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An April survey of business supply managers suggests there will be solid economic growth over the next three to six months in nine Midwest and Plains states, although some survey category figures declined, a report said Wednesday.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index dropped to 55.9 last month from 58.2 in March, the report said. The February figure was 57.9.

"The regional economy continues to expand at a positive pace," said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.

"However, as in recent months, finding and hiring qualified workers remained the chief threat to manufacturing economy for the region," Goss said. Nearly 45% of survey respondents identified labor shortages as the greatest threat to company success in the next 12 months, he said.

The April employment index fell to 51.1 from 56.4 in March.

"Until recently, overall manufacturing employment growth in the region has been very healthy and exceeded that of the nation," Goss said. "However, overall employment growth for the region over the past 12 months at 0.5% is well below national job growth of 1.5%."

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth. A score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

In another economic snapshot, the regional trade numbers rose in April's survey. The new export orders index inched up to 53.9 from March's 53.4, and the import index climbed to 57.0 from 51.7 in March.

Looking ahead six months, the business confidence index jumped to 62.2 in April from 57.2 in March.

"However, I expect business confidence to depend heavily on trade talks with China as well as U.S. economic growth in the weeks and months ahead," Goss said.

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