Archive for Friday, January 11, 2002

Report: Wages trail behind rest of state

January 11, 2002


Douglas County is growing faster than average but its residents earn lower-than-average wages, even compared to other university communities, a new study shows.

About 50 people heard those findings and others Thursday morning at "Getting Up to Speed on Economic Development in Douglas County," a three-hour workshop sponsored by the county's Economic Development Advisory Board.

The workshop was the first of two scheduled communitywide study sessions to help the board as it begins rewriting the economic development chapter of Horizon 2020, the city and county's planning guide.

The new chapter will focus on three broad goals: increasing jobs, the county's tax base, and wages. A new Kansas University report shows increasing wages may be the goal the group needs to focus on the most.

The annual Economic Trends Update for Douglas County, prepared by KU's Policy Research Institute, shows that the average wage for a job in Douglas County in 2000 was $22,876, well below the $28,685 statewide average.

Douglas County wages historically have trailed the state's average, but officials have attributed that to the large number of students who hold part-time jobs, bringing down the county's overall average.

But this year, the report's authors emphasized area wages also are lower, and have been since 1990, than four other university counties in the Midwest that Douglas County measures itself against.

"I think the wage discrepancy that we appear to have is beginning to raise some eyebrows," County Commissioner Charles Jones said. "Maybe it is because of all the students we have, but some of this data suggests that reason may be overstated a bit."

The report shows Douglas County's annual average wage is between $2,700 and $8,500 below the wages paid in the counties that are home to University of Missouri, University of Iowa, Colorado State University and University of Illinois.

Debi Moore, senior vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said part of the discrepancy may be because of the type of jobs the community has been creating.

"The numbers show that our fastest-growing job sectors are government, services and retail, and those traditionally are not the highest-paying jobs," Moore said.

But there also were positive findings in the report, economic development leaders said. The county continues to be a popular place to live, as the county's population growth was the third fastest in the state during the decade of the '90s, growing at a rate of 22 percent.

Job growth in the county generally outpaced the state average the past decade. Total employment in the county from 1994 to 1999 increased by 21.3 percent, or roughly 10,600 jobs, compared to a 13.5 percent growth rate for the state during the same period. The total number of firms locating in the county during the past decade increased by 38 percent, compared to a 13 percent growth rate for the state.

The advisory board will make an evening presentation of the same information at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, Building 21, 2120 Harper.

The board also plans public hearings on the plan at each city in the county beginning in February. Board members hope to have a draft of the new plan for city and county commissioners to consider in June.

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