Archive for Tuesday, March 1, 2005

State stat bolsters Lawrence image

Economic development official praises Kansas’ No. 1 ranking

March 1, 2005


Kansas is climbing the national rankings again, and not all because of Wayne Simien's 32-point performance Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse.

The state ranks No. 1 on Expansion Management Magazine's latest "Health Care Cost Quotient" list, a rundown of the best and worst places for businesses in terms of health care costs, service availability and risk factors.

Within the past year, the magazine -- a trade journal for business relocations -- already has ranked Lawrence's K-12 education system No. 2 in the country, and the city as No. 10 among U.S. communities in terms of quality of life.

Lynn Parman, vice president for economic development at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the latest news Monday after spending the weekend with a team of visiting site selectors.

"It's a process," Parman said. "We're continually trying to educate locally, regionally and nationwide about the significance of Lawrence. And any time we get these rankings, it's one step closer to people seeing what we see every day."

The ranking of the state's health care condition -- ranging from third-best for insurance costs to No. 36 for facilities -- was enough to hold off Tennessee for the top spot on an issue considered critical for business leaders.

The magazine cited a survey of 1,400 corporate chief financial officers, 89 percent of whom said that their biggest concern during the next four years would be health care costs and health care in general -- more so than energy costs, the rising federal budget deficit, government spending or other issues.

"Lower health care costs to employers represents a major competitive advantage for states that score well on the Health Care Cost Quotient," said Mike Keating, senior research editor for the magazine, which is circulated to 45,000 CEOs and other officials of companies looking to expand.

Many such companies turn to site-selection consultants to help locate potential sites for new plants, office complexes, research labs and distribution centers. And this past weekend, Lawrence got a full checkup from some of the biggest names in the business.

Visiting team impressed

Eight site selectors joined other economic-development officials and their guests for a weekend tour of the Lawrence area, sponsored by the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Among them was Brian Corde, who within the past year helped companies like Pfizer and Phillip Morris find new corporate headquarters. Now he's focused on finishing the next big thing: perhaps a home for a high-tech manufacturer, a new building for a major call center or a prime site for a large distribution operation.

And now that he's seen Lawrence, Corde is ready to give the area a shot.

"When you have a level of comfort with an area -- you've seen it, you've touched it -- you can push a little harder," said Corde, executive director for location strategies at Mintax Inc., a New Jersey-based consultant for 200 of the country's largest companies. "I do think the consultants, the general consensus of all of us, is that we were all very -- not surprised -- but happy with what we saw, and would consider bringing a client your way."

Of particular note, he said, are Lawrence's thriving downtown, its variety of businesses -- from manufacturers to distribution hubs to high-tech pharmaceutical operations -- and an overall strength in the economy that plays well in corporate boardrooms.

State rankings in Expansion Management Magazine's latest "Health Care Cost Quotient," indicating the best values for businesses for health care in terms of facilities, providers, insurance costs, provider visit costs and malpractice costs:1. Kansas2. Tennessee3. Louisiana4. North Dakota5. South DakotaOthers receiving votes: Missouri (No. 6), Nebraska (No. 12), Oklahoma (No. 30), Colorado (No. 31).

"Whether the client picks you, that's another matter," Corde said, "but we're able to put you in the game."

Rock chalk talk

Speaking of games, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce managed to score enough tickets to get everyone on the trip -- 30 in all -- into the biggest contest in town: Kansas-Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse.

After a bus tour of the city's industrial parks, neighborhoods and commercial areas, the eco-devo team arrived two hours before tip-off for a sit-down visit with KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins, photos with Big Jay and Baby Jay and seats among 16,300 KU faithful for the tilt for control of the Big 12 Conference.

The selectors donned their complimentary blue T-shirts, sang the "Rock Chalk Chant," cheered as Simien sank shot after shot -- and held their collective breath as John Lucas' last-second three-pointer caromed off the rim, denying Oklahoma State a win.

"The fact that the economic development council was able to secure ... tickets, that says a lot about the community and its commitment to growing," said Mark Kolar, site selection associate vice president for Equis Corp. in Chicago. "It was by far the best sporting event that I've seen. You don't see the passion and the interaction at a lot of other sports facilities that I've been to."

Kolar's seen Illinois play this year against Iowa, and in the past has been in the stands for the Orange Bowl and other BCS football games. He even watched Michael Jordan's Bulls march through the NBA Finals.

Now the Iowa alum understands why guys like Danny Manning, Mike Maddox and other Kansas basketball players decide to work in Lawrence, along with a long list of other KU alums who choose to spend their careers in town.

"The sense of community is so great within Lawrence," he said. "There's a lot of people who are obviously coming back to Lawrence that don't want to drop their ties to the university once they graduate. That shows something more. There's a deeper commitment. That must mean there's something great going on."

He laughed. Kolar has two KU T-shirts and a hat to go along with all the memories he picked up during a weekend meant to put Lawrence at the front of his mind at work.

And he doesn't mind a bit.

"Anytime I see Kansas," he said. "I'll feel like there's a little bit of a tie."

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