Lawrence had a great -- if not record -- year in terms of overall economic development, said Lynn Parman, vice president for economic development at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
"It was just an awesome year," she said. "2004 was the best year we've had in a number of years."
Parman said 20 businesses expanded in Lawrence last year, compared with 10 in 2003. The expansions produced 399 new jobs, an increase from the 234 jobs created in 2003.
"We were very pleased to see the increase, but we were not surprised because we knew there was a lot of potential out there for 2004," she said.
Parman attributed the increase to a better economy and efforts by the chamber. She said visits with business owners revealed they had a lot of confidence in the economy and in Lawrence last year. Parman said the chamber helped businesses through the expansion process by explaining federal, state and local incentive programs, as well as the tax-abatement program.
On its Web site, the chamber also maintains a land and building database that identifies real estate on the market. Parman said it was the site's busiest feature.
"We know it's really being utilized," she said.
Parman said one challenge last year was the lack of land and building options for potential businesses. In 2003, ECO2 -- a county group charged with fostering development of industrial land and preservation of open space in the county -- worked to identify new business parks that would fit more potential newcomers' real estate plans. Parman said the city was limited in the 23,000- to 67,000-square-foot range, which often was requested from inquiring businesses.
"When we don't have that, we can't even get in the game," she said.
Another challenge was finding opportunities for technical training within the scope of manufacturing, biosciences and other fields, Parman said. She said not having local training options affected the chamber's business retention efforts, and the 45-member Workforce Development Task Force would have a plan to address these concerns next year.
One highlight from last year, Parman said, was a significant growth in bioscience companies in Douglas County, bringing more jobs and revenue to the area. She said a special task force was creating a strategic plan to attract more bioscience companies to the area to maximize Kansas University's research potential and create a better environment for startup companies.
"I don't know if it's going to be one of our core areas, but I think it's an area that shows a lot of potential," she said. "At the chamber, we're just focused on getting more jobs -- whether that be in manufacturing, technology or distribution."