Lawrence is the ninth-best small metro area in the nation for business and careers, according to a new survey released this week by the publishers of Forbes magazine.
Lawrence moved up 10 spots from its ranking in 2001 buoyed by strong job growth numbers and a growing number of high-tech companies. Lawrence was ranked against other metro areas with populations of 177,000 people or less.
Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Bill Sepic said the new ranking should help area economic development efforts.
"It's very good news because it puts us in some excellent company," Sepic said. "I'm not sure this tells us anything we didn't know, because we have known we're a healthy, growing community but it is nice when a third party recognizes it.
"It's probably not the type of thing where someone is going to move to town simply because of this poll, but it's icing on the cake and it certainly will draw attention to us."
The rankings, which were compiled by researchers at Forbes and analysts at the Milken Institute, rate the country's 296 designated metropolitan areas by looking at factors such as job-growth rates, salary growth and the amount of business done by high-tech companies in the area.
Lawrence received its highest rankings in the areas of one-year job-growth rate, five-year growth rate of high-tech business activity, and five-year job-growth rate.
Sepic said he was slightly surprised that Lawrence moved up in the annual rankings until he realized the researchers used 2000 rather than 2001 data to compile some of their scores for each community.
"Some of these numbers came from a time when we didn't yet feel like we were in a recession here," Sepic said.
If 2001 numbers were used, the results may have been different, because Sepic admits the community did struggle to attract new jobs in 2001. In fact, according to the state's Department of Human Resources, the Lawrence area saw its employment numbers drop by about 1.8 percent in 2001.
That doesn't mean Lawrence shouldn't still be pleased with the ranking, but rather should continue working to improve its economic development efforts, Sepic said. The city is commissioning a survey to determine why some business leaders believe the city is a tough place to conduct business. Sepic said this ranking shouldn't stop that survey.
"I think this ranking is good news, but I don't want it to be an excuse for us to say everything is all right and forget about economic development," Sepic said. "After all, just because this says we're one of the best places for businesses and careers, it doesn't necessarily mean we're bringing in tons of new businesses."
In fact, the survey ranked the community 263rd out of 296 in the category of job momentum, which uses various statistics to measure how the community is rebounding from the events of Sept. 11 and the slowing economy of 2001.
Las Cruces, N.M., ranked first in the survey, while Iowa City, Iowa, ranked second. In addition to Lawrence, one other Big 12 city College Station, Tex., was ranked in the top 10 at No. 7. Rochester, Minn., the city where Sepic previously served as president of the chamber of commerce, was ranked 10th.
Alicia Janesko, the chamber's marketing manager for economic development, said the chamber would include Lawrence's ranking in all the packets sent out to businesses looking to locate in Lawrence.
"It comes at a good time because I've notice more companies are starting to look at relocating again," Janesko said. "The economy seems to be recovering."