Lawrence-area wealth is not keeping pace with statewide increases, according to a new study, but is still well above the state average.
``Douglas County is already one of the top counties in the state by wealth,'' said David Darling, a Kansas State University economist. ``It's kind of hard to increase much when you're way up there.''
That fits with the overall conclusions of Darling's five-year study. It found that residents in Kansas' rural communities are ``prospering in prosperous times,'' while those in trendy metropolitan areas -- like Lawrence -- are beginning to slow or lose ground.
``According to recent demographic trends, we are in an era that is experiencing population growth on the fringes of larger cities,'' Darling said. ``This might be one of the causes for the relative deterioration of real estate prices in urban areas.''
The conclusions are based on a ``Wealth Index,'' which indexes personal wealth by looking at taxable values of residential property, mobile homes and cars. For each county, that value was divided by the county's population. Each county -- and the state as a whole -- was assigned a wealth index, and the five-year difference was expressed as a percentage difference.
The study covered the years 1992 through 1997.
Douglas County's wealth increased by 6.53 percent, the study found, compared with a statewide average increase of 10.05 percent. The county still ranked No. 3 in individual wealth, after No. 1 Johnson County and No. 2 Miami County.
Of the top 10 biggest wealth gainers, Darling found all but three were located near a major trade center.
The study also found seven counties' wealth decreased. Three, Johnson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, are in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Shawnee County, which includes Topeka, also fell.
Darling said the Kansas City area decline provided an illustration of the shift in wealth base. While those counties all declined, every bordering county saw wealth rise.
As in Douglas County, Darling said, Johnson County's level of individual wealth may simply be returning to normal as more lower-cost housing is built.
In Shawnee County, which had a negative index of 5.83 percent, Darling blamed a lagging private economy in combination with downsizing of state government.
Comparing the state's regions, Darling also found an increase in rural wealth. North-central Kansas showed a 15.6 percent increase in the wealth index, followed by the similarly rural southeastern region, which increased 14.63 percent, and northwestern region, which increased 12.45 percent.
The region with the least growth, 4.52 percent, was south-central Kansas. The region includes three of the state's most urban counties: Sedgwick, Reno and Butler.
``The study found there is evidence to support a rural rebound in Kansas,'' Darling said.
For example, the biggest increase was in Sheridan County, in northwest Kansas. No. 2 was Miami County, which is starting to gain from being just south of Johnson County, the state's wealthiest.
``Miami County is a spillover county,'' Darling said. ``Johnson County is spilling south.''
Proof of the Miami County boom is that home values as far south as Paola have increased as much as 20 percent, he said.
-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is email@example.com.