Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2004

County near top of ‘most prosperous’ list

May 9, 2004


Rolls-Royces aren't a dime a dozen, and there are no plans to pave the streets with gold.

Nonetheless, a new study from Kansas State University says Douglas County is the fourth most-prosperous in the state.

"How do we look from a snapshot perspective?" asked David Darling, the K-State economist who performed the study. "You look relatively strong. You can't complain about that."

But there are concerns reflected within the rankings, based on a "strength index" compiled by Darling. The index measures prosperity by looking at three factors:

  • The "wealth index," defined as the demand for luxury housing and vehicles.
  • The "personal income index," which measures per capita income.
  • The "employment index" which looks at a county's ratio of employed to unemployed people.

Douglas County performed well above the state average in the employment index, showing most people have jobs. Ditto the wealth index, which indicates property values are high.

The 10 most prosperous Kansas counties, according to a survey by Kansas State University:1. Johnson2. Ellis3. Miami4. Douglas5. Saline6. Shawnee7. Jackson8. Sherman9. Sedgwick10. McPherson

The median income, though, comes in at 85 percent of the average for all Kansas counties.

"I think there's not a proportionality to that," said Mayor Mike Rundle, who scoffed at the notion a county could be prosperous with low wages.

Darling agreed with the concern.

"Everybody should know that Lawrence is not a cheap place to buy property," Darling said. "You have a challenge. But your labor force is well-employed."

But Darling and Lavern Squier, CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, noted that Lawrence was filled with university students working low-wage service industry jobs while they seek a degree.

"As you would look at other university towns, that's not an unusual thing because of the proliferation of college kids in service jobs," Squier said.

And Darling said that factor made Lawrence's fourth-place ranking all the more startling.

"This is surprising strength, given your demographics and situation," Darling said.

Rundle, though, said the survey shows a need to lure higher-wage jobs -- and said he would be skeptical about granting tax abatements to even those companies that meet the new "living wage" standard of paying no less than $9.79 an hour.

The five least prosperous counties:101. Kearny102. Greenwood103. Woodson104. Elk105. Chautauqua

"We've simply got to spend our resources more wisely," Rundle said. "I don't know who would argue with having that much more income in the local economy, which would allow people to buy houses and cars."

Johnson County was the most prosperous county in the strength index, followed by Ellis, Miami and Douglas counties. Shawnee County came in at No. 6, making the Topeka-to-Kansas City corridor a center of what Squier called "regional wealth."

Overall, Darling said, Kansas isn't doing too bad.

"Kansas is relatively prosperous in the United States," he said. "But it isn't anywhere near Connecticut, which is way up."

Squier, whose agency partners with the city and county on economic development efforts, said he also wanted to improve both the number and quality of jobs here.

He wasn't too excited about the prosperity ranking but didn't downplay it, either.

"I think if you've got to be on a side of the equation," Squier said, "you want to be on the upside of wealth."

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