Retail sales in Buena Vista County jumped 6.7 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to a new Iowa State University Retail Trade Analysis study - nearly four times the rate of increase that the state saw overall.
Among similar "peer" counties as determined by ISU data, sales only increased 0.5 percent.
Last year, over $172 million was spent in retail sales in Buena Vista County - counting only taxable items, which excludes food.
Still, per capita spending locally, at about $8,600 per year, lags well behind the state average of over $10,600 per person. It did, however, grow by 4.1 percent in the county in a year's time, while statewide, per capita sales actually decreased.
Per capita retail sales are an important measure of a city or county's economic health, and are often used by businesspeople in deciding where to locate, ISU experts said.
According to the ISU study, population has seen little change for the county.
Population increased 3.5 percent from 200-2006 (687 more people), but actually losing a dozen people from 2006-2007.
Compared to the state in general, BV County has a slightly higher percentage of children under 18, and a considerably higher rate of senior citizens over 65.
The county has a slightly higher rate of high school graduates than the state, but a lower rate of college graduates - just 18.7 percent of the local population is degreed.
Employment rates in the county have been running about 96 percent of eligible workers, a fraction of a percent better than the state or peer counties' rates.
The average local worker's pay, $24,600, is up a sharp 5.1 percent in the past year, but is far behind the state average of almost $33,500, and also well behind that of peer counties.
The average per capita household income in BV County is declining, down almost 2 percent from 2006-2007, and almost $5,000 less than state average. Almost one in every four households in the county must get by on less than $20,000 income per year, while only 30.5 percent rake in over $50,000.
Local workers do stay at home. Only 14.5 percent go to another county for work, while 36 percent go to another town - compared to 22 and 45 percent respectively for workers statewide. For every BV resident who leaves the county to work, 1.2 come in from outside the county.
Shoppers are rather stingy in the area. In 1980, they were spending over $12,500 per person in retail buying per year, but that has declined steadily to the modern record low of $8,200 in 2006.
The number of businesses has also declined at about the same pace, from a high of 820 in the early 1980s to 629 today. This may reflect in part many small farming operations replaced by a relatively fewer large ones.
The trend may be reversing, however, as 2007 saw the first significant growth in business numbers in many years - up 28 from 2006. Local businesses average about $274,000 per year in retail sales.
That translates to over $172 million in sales in the county last year, although ISU experts suggest this is about 5 percent below the county's actual potential to pull in sales. (In 2006, BV County had been estimated at a whopping 13.7 percent below potential.)
Most of the retail dollars that are leaving Buena Vista County are being spent in Clay County (the Spencer area), many times over the strongest competitor for local retail sales (and the location of the only enclosed mall in the area.)
Sac, Pocahontas, Ida and Cherokee counties all see considerably lower per capita retail sales than Buena Vista.
Internet shopping is sucking about $5.5 million a year out of Buena Vista County in retail sales. While that is only 3 percent of total sales, it is the fastest growing segment of shopping, increasing nearly five times faster that local retail shopping in stores.
The experts say that e-commerce is strongest for sales of 1. computer goods; 2. books; 3. music/video; 4. toys.
The leading retail areas in Buena Vista County are in services, followed by specialty stores and eating and drinking establishments a close third.
The average citizen here spends almost $700 a year in restaurants and bars, compared to ober $1,000 statewide.
Buena Vista County does its share of stealing income from its neighbors - it's retail "pull factor" ranks it 21st among the 99 counties in the state, and that is based on figures before Project Awaysis took full effect. Polk County (Des Moines) was of course stongest, and Dickinson (the Okoboji tourism area) was fourth.