Columbia Officials say Burgundy Book Overestimating Permits Gap

The Federal Reserve Bank's Eighth District map. Image courtesy of USA.Gov.

COLUMBIA—Residential building permits are down almost 50 percent in Columbia from January to April 2012 from the same time period in 2011, according to a Federal Reserve Report.

The numbers may seem alarming when compared to St. Louis, Jefferson City, Springfield and even the United States, all of which saw permit numbers rise for the same time period. However, Columbia Building Regulations Supervisor Phil Teeple said such a small sample size is too arbitrary to draw real conclusions from.

“Three months’ data shouldn’t cause any alarm,” he said.

Teeple said with small samples one item can skew the data. For example, he said the dollar value of permits was similar in 2012 and 2011, but the building of the wastewater treatment plant in 2010 drove that year’s number up, even though it had fewer permits.

“The wastewater plant [cost] $60 million,” Teeple said. “Is that an outlier?”

Instead, Teeple said it’s important to look at multiple years when examining building permits as an economic indicator. While Columbia’s 2012 total number of building permits is down from 2011, the number is up compared to 2010, and there are other indicators the city is performing well. Columbia has the lowest unemployment in the Federal Reserve’s Eighth District (see the map at right) and its housing prices are growing faster than St. Louis, Jefferson City or Springfield.

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