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Archive for Saturday, April 24, 2004

Chamber officials trying to capitalize on lofty ranking

Forbes magazine lists Lawrence as country’s seventh-best small city

April 24, 2004

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The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is capitalizing on a Forbes magazine study that ranked Lawrence the seventh-best small city in the country for business and careers.

The Lawrence metropolitan area, which includes all of Douglas County, jumped from ninth to seventh-best small city in the May 2003 study. The study ranked 168 communities with a population of less than 330,000. In February, the Chamber of Commerce used the ranking as part of a direct mailing to more than 3,500 site selectors and brokers. Alicia Janesko, marketing manager for the chamber's economic devlopment program, said the rankings helped attract businesses.

"A site selector is a different type of animal," she said. "They're numbers focused. Instead of worrying about the touchy-feely aspects of a community, a business can see how we compare by the numbers."

Forbes magazine used eight categories to rank cities: cost of doing business, housing affordability, educational attainment, residents with advanced degrees, crime rates, job growth, income growth and net migration.

Janesko attributed the jump in the rankings to the number of different types of industries the city supported and the number of businesses that expanded last year. In 2003, Lawrence had 11 companies expand, and brought in Deciphera Pharmaceuticals. Janesko said having existing businesses grow was important.

"Having current businesses expand is not as sexy as getting a new business," she said. "But they are important because they show how strong our businesses are."

The rankings especially helped draw attention to cities in the Midwest, said Luke Middleton, an economist with Kansas University's Policy Research Institute.

"Sometimes we fly under the radar," he said. "Getting that notoriety is important.

Middleton said employment in Lawrence was one reason the city might have improved in the ranking. In 2002, total employment grew by 0.6 percent, and in 2003 it grew by 3 percent. Despite the jump in the rankings, Middleton said the study was not an indicator of a booming Lawrence economy.

"The study is not an objective measure of economic performance," Middleton said. "But for businesses, it's an indicator of relative performance compared to other cities."

Kurt Badenhausen, statistics editor for Forbes magazine, said Lawrence's jump to seventh was not necessarily because of business growth during 2003. He said more than 50 percent of the 2003 study methodology changed, and the new study put more emphasis on educational factors.

"Lawrence has two very good things to offer -- an educated labor supply and an inexpensive place to do business," Badenhausen said.

Kansas University helped Lawrence rank high in both education categories. The city was fourth in residents with at least a bachelor's degree, and 11th in the number of people with doctorate degrees.

"KU is a key marketing tool," Janesko said. "We specifically worked with the university to land Serologicals Corporation."

She said one of the reasons the biotech company, which plans to have a plant fully staffed by early 2005, was attracted to Lawrence was because of the research possibilities KU offered. In turn, Janesko said bringing in new firms helped strengthen prospects for KU students.

"We want students coming off the hill to stay in the community," she said.

The city ranked in the top half of all the categories, except for affordable housing, where the city finished at 108th. Janesko said the city was working in that area for the future.

Forbes magazine will release a new set of rankings in May.

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