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Talking Points -- There's no immunity to financial mess we're all a part of

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Way out here in out-of-the-way country, we kind of like to think we're immune from a lot of what happens in the rest of the country.

We like to think a lot of the whacky trends that are all the rage on the coasts will be exposed as just that -- whacky trends -- before anyone out here gets a notion to jump into them.

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I've heard more than a few people say that they think it's the same with our current economic situation. We're not Michigan or some other area that was crushed when the economy was in free fall. We're getting by pretty good. We're immune to most of it.

In a comparative sense, that might be true. We're not a Detroit with its gutted auto industry. We're not New York, with its collapsing mega-banks and destitute financial firms.

But we are in no way immune.

Morris-area residents learned last week that Coborn's grocery would be closing this fall. That's 50 jobs and a business that contributed to the community -- gone.

And remember that the DENCO ethanol plant and its nearly 40 jobs are still idle. Several other businesses in the area are suffering from shrinking orders and have needed to lay off workers.

Read newspapers from around the region -- if the newspaper hasn't shut down -- and you'll see that it seems like foreclosure notices take up half the legals.

Even the farm industry, which we lean on to keep things rolling in tough times and good, is dealing with major issues. It doesn't matter if its crops, cattle or cows, all sectors are taking a beating.

A monthly survey of rural bankers in 11 Midwest and Plains states seems to back that up.

It's call The Rural Mainstreet Index, and it dropped to 32.6 in July which is down a few points from what it was in June and May.

That would seem to be good news since the index's numbers are significantly higher than its record low of about 17 points in February. Then you see that, according to the index, that a mark of 50 is considered neutral growth.

Ernie Goss, a Creighton University economist, and a Nebraska banker created the survey, which covers Minnesota, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

According to an Associated Press report on the survey, bankers are not confident that in six months things will be any better. Farm economists say a drop in farm income is hurting related sales for equipment and land.

Goss told the AP that only 6.3 percent of the bankers believe farm income this year will increase over last year, and that a third believe it will decrease in 2009, despite predictions that yields will be substantially higher this year.

The survey's index for rural hiring fell in July over June, and the report states that it was the 19th straight month that the new-hire index was below the neutral growth levels. Goss said he believes the job losses will continue.

The survey's retail sales index is falling, as is the home sales index.

None of those surveyed said they've seen any real impact from the federal stimulus package.

The survey covered almost 200 communities and that the average population was about 1,300.

That's a picture of the typical heartland community, the ones we might have thought were immune to the economic distress. But we are learning that -- north, south, east or west -- what we all seem to be immune to is any sense of optimism that a meaningful uptick is coming soon.

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