The Region's economy starts out strong most years, but this spring it's really humming along thanks to a rebound in steel production.
The Northwest Indiana Coincident Index, which Indiana University Northwest professors came up to measure the local economy, increased 0.3 points in February and 1.1 points in the first quarter of the year. It now stands at 141.9, up from 140.8 at the end of 2015.
"A rise in the index is typical in the first quarter of each year as part of a seasonal trend but this year's growth was stronger than normal," IUN School of Business and Economics Professors Bala Arshanapalli and Micah Pollak wrote in their March 2016 update. "While this is positive news, it follows a dismal fourth quarter in which the index fell 0.8 points. Overall the index is up almost two points from a year ago."
The NWI Index crunches a lot of local and national economic data, such as retail sales and the interest rate spread.
In this case, much of the gain is a result of increased steel output, which was up 12 percent in March as compared to the end of last year. But Arshanapalli and Pollak warn the boost should be short-lived because of "the continued uncertainty in the international steel market."
Northwest Indiana's economy grew by 0.78 percent during the first three months of the year, similar to the national growth rate. The state's overall economy, which usually outpaces the Region and the nation, declined slightly during the same period.
Northwest Indiana lost 6,800 jobs during the first quarter, a typical seasonal adjustment, and now employs about 272,100 workers, or 16,900 less than before the Great Recession. Manufacturing hours remained at 41.7 hours a week, near the all-time peak, while the Manufacturing Index rose 4.7 percent, near its highest level since before the Great Recession.
The trends have made Arshanapalli and Pollak more optimistic than usual about where the local economy is headed. They upgraded their forecast to predict moderate growth of 1.5 points over the next six months, which would be a 1 percent increase.