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OMAHA, Neb. — A new survey of business leaders suggests the economy will continue growing in nine Midwestern and Plains states in the months ahead.

The monthly Mid-America Business Conditions Index rose to 57.7 last month, compared with 53.2 in December.

Looking six months ahead, the business confidence index dropped to a still strong 62.2 from 66.5 in December.

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth, while a score below that suggests decline.

In Arkansas, the January overall index for Arkansas dropped to 53.6 from 53.9 in December. Components of the index were new orders at 50.9, production or sales at 49.3, delivery lead time at 50.1, inventories at 64.1 and employment at 53.7.

"Durable-goods manufacturers and business services firms began the year on a high note. On the other hand, nondurable-goods producers continue to shed jobs," said Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss, who oversees the report.

Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri are the only states in the Mid-America region that haven't returned to prerecession employment levels. "Based on our survey results, Arkansas' employment will be back to fourth-quarter 2007 levels by the end of 2014," he said.

The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

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