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Archive for Saturday, June 8, 2002

s most educated

June 8, 2002

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If the United States were a university, Lawrence would be on the honor roll.

According to U.S. Census data released this week, the Lawrence metropolitan area has the sixth-highest percentage of adults with at least a bachelor's degree of all cities in the United States.

Business leaders plan to use the data to recruit high-tech companies seeking an educated work force. But they say the numbers also are a reason Lawrence may have trouble landing a large factory with blue-collar workers.

"They're not going to be real happy turning every nut that goes by three times," Bob Nunley, a retired geography professor at Kansas University, said of Lawrence's work force. "There are places with a less educated, less stable, more blue-collar population to operate."

According to data from the 2000 Census, 42.7 percent of Douglas County residents 25 and older have at least a bachelor's degree, compared with the statewide average of 25.8 percent and the national average of 24.4 percent.

In 1990, the Douglas County average was 38.4 percent, while the statewide average was 21.1 percent.

The list of top 10 educated areas is dominated by college towns, including Boulder, Colo.; Madison, Wis.; and Columbia, Mo.

The Lawrence metropolitan area includes all of Douglas County. If you look only at the city of Lawrence, without including the rest of the county, 47.7 percent of residents have at least a bachelor's degree. That was up from 44 percent in 1990.

'Over-educated people'

Lawrence's high-ranking numbers came as no surprise to Nunley, who has kept an eye on the city's demographics during his 40 years at KU.

"These (top 10 counties) are the counties that are most dominated by educational institutions and have least diversification in the economic base," he said. "Look at the Lawrence economy other than KU."

He also noted there were only so many jobs in Lawrence for people with degrees. Some have to resort to waiting tables or similar work.

"Certainly we have a great many over-educated people in jobs in the Lawrence area," he said.

Cheryl White, with the Lawrence Workforce Center, 2540 Iowa, said having an educated population meant Lawrence workers must be flexible with job choices.

"They have a broad spectrum of transferable skills," she said. "It means the competition is stiffer in our community because so many qualified candidates have a higher education."

Recruitment tool

Business leaders say the sixth-place ranking could be used to lure both new companies and new workers to Lawrence.

"That becomes part of the story you tell," said Bennett Griffin, president of Griffin Technologies, 916 Mass., and president of the Lawrence Technology Assn. "Lawrence has had a history of being able to talk about the intangibles, and this is a nice, complementary, tangible fact of who we are. It's something we can be proud of as a community and use as a business perspective when we sell the community in an economic development area."

Bill Glover, director of human resources at Lawrence's Hallmark plant, agreed. He said the ranking could help draw new employees, especially managers and engineers.

"We give out information on the Lawrence community because we're pretty proud of it," he said.

Glover said Hallmark hadn't encountered problems filling its blue-collar positions.

"We have some hourly people who have college degrees, but they're technicians and specialists who are good at what they're doing," he said.

Cultured crowd

Robert Barnhill, vice chancellor for research at KU and president of KU's Center for Research, said educated people were drawn to Lawrence's vibrant arts scene.

And, he said, the educated population is partly the reason for the city's culture. Not only do educated people expect more cultural activities, he said, "they can help pay for it, too."

"Having educated folks around and having lots of espresso shops  a description of Massachusetts Street  encourages a person to want to live in such a place, and because they're the creative class, all sorts of nifty things happen," he said.

Barnhill said KU's increasing research budget  $224 million in fiscal year 2001, up 16 percent from the previous year  was helping fuel the Lawrence economy.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates 40 jobs are created for every $1 million in research. That would mean KU's research finances about 9,000 positions.

Barnhill said the increasing research would keep attracting people with degrees to Lawrence.

"With this great boom in research, there's more of everything  more research itself, more spinoffs, more companies to work with us," he said. "Lawrence right now is really on the upswing."

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