It may not be the same as ending up No. 1 in the final Associated Press men's basketball poll, but Lynn Parman feels like Lawrence just won a national championship by being named a "five-star metro" area by a leading economic-development magazine.
The ranking - a compilation of seven other rankings calculated during the past 12 months - will be among the first things she brings up when working to recruit new businesses to locate in town.
"When you're competing nationally, anything you have like this is significant," said Parman, vice president for economic development at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. "Anything that is of national significance makes us stand out. And in economic development, when you're trying to attract businesses, anytime we can show that we're better than the competition, it just puts us a step ahead."
The latest ranking, included in the latest issue of Expansion Management magazine, is yet another in a series of steps up for Lawrence's national profile.
Men's Journal recently named Lawrence one of the best places in the country to live, based upon a number of quality-of-life factors. Golf Digest rated Lawrence No. 40 among the best communities for golf in the United States, from among 330 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas.
The rankings are by no means isolated. Last year, Forbes magazine ranked Lawrence No. 6 on its list of smaller metro areas for launching a business or career. Relocate-America.com put Lawrence among the top 100 places to live. A book, "The 100 Best Art Towns in America," includes a rundown of Lawrence's cultural offerings.
'The more ... the better'
As such compilations pile up Lawrence will continue to build a well-deserved reputation as a fine place to live, work and play, said Bill King, chief editor of Expansion Management. Such plaudits get noticed in all kinds of settings, whether it be a bookstore aisle, Internet search engine or corporate board room.
Such exposure is certain to pay dividends.
"The more rankings a community makes, the better it is," said King, whose office is in Lenexa. "It is, in a sense, great marketing for them. It's a third-party testament, rather than just listening to the head of a local chamber of commerce saying, 'Hey, Lawrence is a darn nice place to live' or whatever.
"With the rankings, you have a disinterested third party saying, 'These are the areas we've looked at, and these are the top communities.' "
For Expansion Management's 45,000 subscribers - half of them CEOs or senior executives for companies looking for the best locations to expand or relocate a facility during the next one to three years - a community with a "five-star" rating already has a leg up on hundreds of other communities nationwide.
Lawrence made the list based upon its lofty standings in a series of earlier studies conducted by the magazine on 362 metropolitan statistical areas across the country. Among Lawrence's standings in specific categories:
¢ Public education: No. 5.
¢ Knowledgeable workers: No. 62.
¢ Quality of life: No. 63.
Taking bad with good
But the "five-star" designation also managed to gloss over some of Lawrence's shortcomings, King said. The community's logistics and infrastructure - such as access to roads, highways, rail lines, water-based commerce, airports and other factors - ranks 313th among U.S. metro areas, the magazine found.
Not that such negatives are deal killers.
"We're just trying to educate our readers on how to evaluate different aspects of the community - (so that they) don't just take the chamber of commerce's word for it that every place is a darn good place to do business," King said. "We try to show people how it will have an impact and make a difference on their bottom line."
But such rankings already have made a difference in Parman's office at the Lawrence chamber, 734 Vt.
As Lawrence's profile continues to rise nationally, Parman isn't relying as much on other agencies to forward her leads from businesses looking to expand or relocate. A year ago, about 70 percent of her leads came from other sources, such as the Kansas Department of Commerce or the Kansas City Area Development Council.
So far this year, half of her leads have come directly into her office, whether it's by phone, fax or letter.
"We're generating leads ourselves now," Parman said. "It's just awareness."
Having such direct connections also appears to be paying off, she said. At this time last year Parman had welcomed representatives from only eight companies looking to land a potential project in the area.
So far this year, she said, the number of site visits already has swollen to 23.
"It's made a huge difference for us," she said.