Commercial Magazine

Spotlight: Great Plains Region

These seven states are enjoying renewed economic strength.

By Jeff Bond

The Great Plains region of the U.S. has become an economic powerhouse in recent years. This area — which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota — had four states with a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate that was higher than the scorching national average of 4.9% during the third quarter of 2023.

Leading the way was Kansas, which boasted the fastest-growing economy in the nation, reaching a GDP growth rate of 9.7% for the July-to-September period. The Sunflower State was followed by Nebraska with a 7.5% GDP jump. Oklahoma grew by 6% and South Dakota by 5.2%. Iowa’s GDP gained 4.1%, while Missouri’s rose 4%. The laggard in the group was North Dakota, which grew by 2.9%.

Nebraska’s robust growth was all the more striking in light of predictions that the state was facing a possible recession in 2023. Eric Thompson, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research, forecasted the state could fall into recession due to a decline in property values and an increase in job losses. But the recession never materialized.

Like most of the Great Plains region, housing prices continued to rise in 2023. Nebraska saw median home prices rise nearly 18% year-over-year in September to $283,000. The state was expected to see job growth of 1.7% for the year. Missouri has the region’s largest economy, with a GDP of about $390 billion. Home prices were up 5.3% year-over-year in December. However, some communities saw home prices soar. University City, for instance, saw home prices rise 48.4%.

One of the main drivers of these economies remains agriculture. The region also has seen population growth and is home to a robust manufacturing sector. But experts at the Wichita State University say that agriculture accounted for more than half of the booming GDP growth in Kansas for the third quarter.

Long known as America’s breadbasket, the Great Plains is the top producer for many U.S. crops. The region from Northern Texas to South Dakota is the center of the nation’s hard red winter wheat, which accounts for about 40 percent of total U.S. wheat production. Hard red spring wheat accounts for about 25% of U.S. production and is grown through much of North and South Dakota, and neighboring Montana.

The Great Plains also are known for corn production. About 90 million acres of corn are planted each year in the U.S., with much of it in the Great Plains states. Iowa is the nation’s leading corn producer, harvesting 2.52 billion bushels of corn for grain in 2023. In recent years, the price of corn has spiked, in part due to the Russia-Ukraine war, making it a top cash crop.

Beyond agriculture, the region is also known as an up-and-coming manufacturing center. Missouri’s large manufacturing sector accounts for nearly 12% of the state’s private-sector employment. The state has more than 7,600 manufacturers employing more than 282,000 workers. Major companies with operations in the state include Boeing Defense, Space & Security. This division of the aerospace giant is headquartered in St. Louis.

Companies headquartered in Missouri include Anheuser-Busch, Emerson Electric, Hostess Brands and O’Reilly Automotive. Hallmark Cards, known since 1910 for its greeting cards, is based in Kansas City, Missouri, and is the largest greeting card manufacturer in the U.S.

Kansas is home to manufacturing operations for food processing, consumer electronics and aviation. The state has nearly 3,400 manufacturers employing more than 194,000 workers. Wichita is the center of the state’s aerospace industry, and the home to Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., a major supplier for the Boeing Company. Also located in Wichita is Textron Aviation and a division of Koch Industries, Inc.

Oklahoma, which is home to a large oil and gas sector, has more than 4,200 manufacturing firms, including divisions of such household names as Halliburton, Michelin and 3M. The transportation and warehousing sectors are growing in the state. Tulsa is home to Navistar International’s IC Bus brand of school buses. The 1 million-square-foot facility can produce 70 of the ubiquitous yellow buses each day.

Iowa’s manufacturing sector may be best known for Winnebago Industries. The recreational vehicle manufacturer is based in Forest City, Iowa. Nebraska is home to thousands of manufacturers, including Industrial Maid, a manufacturer of air filtration products. Doosan Bobcat operates a small tractor factory in its birthplace of Gwinner, North Dakota. And 3M runs plants in Brookings and Aberdeen, South Dakota. ●

Nebraska’s largest city, with a metropolitan labor force of more than 510,000, is experiencing robust job growth. Employers added 7,400 workers in 2023, bringing the local unemployment rate down to 2.6% by the end of the year. So, it is no surprise that the city’s office market is looking much stronger than most other locations. By the end of 2023, the Omaha metropolitan area reported a positive net absorption of nearly 174,000 square feet year over year. The overall vacancy rate was at 11.7%, according to Cushman & Wakefield.

The increase in net absorption is the result of expansion in the popular Suburban West Dodge submarket, which saw net absorption last year jump to nearly 225,000 square feet. The largest single occupier to lease in the area was Prime Time Health, which will occupy more than 101,000 square feet of space.

In fact, it appears that there is something of an office building boom going on in the greater Omaha area. Cushman & Wakefield reports that new construction is expected to add another 260,000 square feet of Class A space to the Suburban West Dodge submarket. In downtown Omaha, a 677-foot-tall skyscraper is under construction and is planned to be the new Mutual of Omaha headquarters. The 800,000-square-foot Class A project is expected to be delivered in 2026.

Sources:,, CNBC,, Cushman & Wakefield, The Des Moines Register, Encyclopedia of the Great Plains,,, Industry Select, Industry Week, Logistics Park Kansas City,, Missouri Coalition for the Environment,, National Association of Manufacturers, Oklahoma Department of Commerce, The Associated Press, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Agriculture,


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