A business conditions index for nine Midwest and Plains states slipped over the past month but still pointed to continuing improvement in regional economic conditions, according to a survey report released Thursday.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index dropped to 57.3 in January from 59.0 in December, the report said. The November figure was 57.2.

Manufacturing and other business sectors in the region are adding jobs at a solid pace, said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey.

"Both the national and our regional indices indicate the manufacturing sector is advancing at a very healthy pace and will continue to spill over into the broader national and regional economies in the next three to six months," Goss said.

The January employment index remained above growth neutral with a reading of 52.3, though it was down from December's 57.7.

"Regional job growth continues to be restrained by the availability of qualified workers," Goss said. "More than half of the supply managers, or 53.3 percent, named the difficulty in finding and hiring qualified workers as the greatest 2018 challenge to their business growth."

The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor, while a score below that suggests decline. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Economic optimism climbed higher last month, according to the report. The business confidence index reached 80.5 in January, compared with 73.2 in December.

"Healthy profit growth, still low interest rates, and the recently passed tax reform package pushed business confidence to its highest level ever," Goss said.