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Archive for Tuesday, May 11, 2004

City moves up Forbes list

Economic development official hopes ranking helps Lawrence attract businesses

May 11, 2004

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Thanks to a well-educated population, Lawrence has moved up in a list published by Forbes magazine.

Lawrence was the sixth-best small-sized metropolitan area for business and careers, up from a No. 7 ranking a year ago.

The survey ranks 168 metro areas with populations between 57,000 and 335,000.

Lawrence has been ranked in the top 20 since the business and finance magazine began the rankings in 2000, but the sixth-place finish is the community's highest.

Lynn Parman, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said the ranking was an important part of her department's effort to attract new businesses to the community.

"People in our industry notice this ranking, so it certainly helps that we continue to rise in the top 10," Parman said. "When I go out and market Lawrence and Douglas County, this ranking is something people remember about our community."

The magazine touted Lawrence's large percentage of residents with college or advanced degrees. The Lawrence metro area, which includes Douglas County, ranked fourth among the 168 areas for the percentage of people with a bachelor's degree or higher. The city ranked 11th for the number of people with doctoral degrees.

Parman said the strong showing in the education portion of the rankings was important because it was a major selling point to high-tech and bioscience companies considering the community.

"We always try to plug ourselves as the smart choice, and this helps us do that," Parman said.

Lawrence also stacked up well against other Midwestern communities. Lawrence was the top-ranked community in Kansas and ranked higher than every community in surrounding states, except for Lincoln, Neb., which was No. 4.

"Typically our biggest competition is other Midwestern states, so this can be huge for us," Parman said.

The study looked at seven other factors in determining a ranking. The city ranked No. 49 in cost of doing business, No. 95 in cost of living, No. 101 in crime rate, No. 82 in the amount of cultural and leisure activities, No. 26 in terms of five-year income growth, No. 44 in five-year job growth and No. 40 in net migration of population.

Luke Middleton, a research economist at Kansas University's Policy Research Institute, cautioned against reading too much into the ranking.

Middleton said he was concerned about the city's cost-of-living ranking, which was in the bottom half of those surveyed. He also noted the city's job growth fell from No. 33 in 2003 to No. 44 in 2004.

"We still have our issues to deal with," Middleton said. "Job growth has been tough here. There's still not a lot of industry here."

But Middleton agreed that the ranking, especially the high showing in the education arena, could help the city attract businesses.

"The No. 1 thing most companies are looking for is a quality work force, so I think these numbers would make us look attractive," Middleton said.

The magazine also ranked metro areas that have a population larger than 335,000. The Kansas City metro area ranked No. 68 out of 150 and Wichita No. 82. Madison, Wis., was No. 1.

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