Archive for Friday, April 12, 1996


April 12, 1996


There are many available jobs in Lawrence, especially if you're willing to get your hands a little dirty.

As more and more jobs are created in the Lawrence and Douglas County area, the jobless rate continues to decline.

During 1994, the number of people actively seeking jobs averaged about 5.8 percent. In 1995, the average dropped to 4.6 percent.

Average annual employment for Douglas County has seen strong growth in the last 10 years, up 44.4 percent from 1983 to 1993, said Charles Krider, co-director of the Kansas Center for Community Economic Development and director of Kansas University's Institute for Public Policy and Business Research. Krider cited his findings recently in his annual economic trends report.

Average annual employment growth for Douglas County has outperformed both the state and national rates, Krider said.

The number of firms located in Douglas County has increased 73 percent from 1980 to 1993, compared with a 26 percent increase for Kansas.

For both the county and the state, about 87 percent of the firms employ fewer than 19 workers.

"The importance of small firms to the economy indicates a need for strategies that nurture new business development and assist existing small businesses," Krider said.

Total employment for Douglas County grew from 34,443 in 1980 to 49,018 in 1993 -- a growth rate of 42.3 percent compared to 17 percent for Kansas during the same time. Farm employment, however, for the same time period declined by 13 percent for Douglas County and 20 percent for Kansas.

Traditionally, Douglas County's economy has been dependent on government employment because of Kansas University, Krider said.

Government and government services continues to be the top employment sector in Douglas County with a 1993 employment level of 12,514. Following government, services takes a close second with 12,299 and then retail with 9,389.

But it appears that the economy in Douglas County is diversifying into other sectors, Krider said.

Last year, manufacturing experienced the greatest percentage increase in Lawrence with a 6 percent increase, and the next highest employment growth occurred in the construction and mining industry -- a 5.6 percent increase.

But as more manufacturing and entry-level jobs are created, the labor shortage increases. Nancy Slabaugh, branch manager of Manpower Temporary Services, 211 East Eighth, said it is difficult to find employees for manufacturing, light industrial or clerical positions in Lawrence.

"Every day more and more people are calling us saying they can't find people to fill the entry-level clerical positions," Slabaugh said.

Statistics from the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce report that 1,700 new jobs were added in Lawrence during 1995, the city's largest increase ever.

And it's not just new companies that are relocating to the area, Slabaugh said. Almost 25 percent of established businesses in Lawrence said they plan to add employees this spring, according to a Manpower survey.

"Lawrence as a whole has many more jobs than people to fill them," she said.

Because of the unbalanced labor force, many entry-level positions are flooded with highly qualified applicants, said Mike O'Donnell, director of the Kansas University Small Business Development Center.

"People with incredible qualifications are applying for positions that don't require it," O'Donnell said.

"There just aren't enough jobs in the community to satisfy our highly-educated work force. That's why there is movement every morning in and out of town."

O'Donnell said many highly-skilled workers travel to Kansas City daily for employment. At the same time, a multitude of lower-skilled jobs draw people who live in less-expensive nearby communities.

Lawrence's growth continues to add to the labor shortage. Most housing growth is in the upper-middle-class neighborhoods, leaving fewer lower-income houses, he said.

The average wage per job for Douglas County in 1993 was $18,098 a year, which is lower than the state and national averages. Krider said Douglas County has one of the lowest per-capita personal incomes for the region and the state.

But that may be changing.

More highly technical companies are relocating to Lawrence because of the available and qualified work force, O'Donnell said, citing Oread Laboratories as an example.

Bill Martin, director of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said the city is trying to recruit companies with jobs paying between $28,000 to $35,000 a year.

"We're very honest with employers. We tell them if they are looking for employees on a lower pay scale, they'll have a difficult time finding them in Lawrence or Douglas County," said Gary Toebben, chamber president.

"Our goal is to improve the quality of life for everyone. By creating higher-paid jobs, there is more money to spend in town."

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