Archive for Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recognition of Lawrence’s economic woes is long overdue

January 19, 2008


A recent news story in the Journal-World told of a study initiated by Lawrence city commissioners and staffers to learn what other Big 12 and area cities are doing to attract new jobs and new businesses to their communities.

Based on their reaction to the findings of this study, Lawrence officials either have been in the dark for some time or have not paid attention to the growing concern of many local residents about the city's economic health.

Or maybe it's a bad case of complacency or arrogance, which seems to be a growing disease among many in Lawrence and on the Kansas University campus.

Mike Amyx, a top-flight city commissioner and a former mayor reacted to the survey by saying, "It seems to me that we're kind of behind the times." Mayor Sue Hack said Lawrence likely will continue to lag other cities until the community figures out how to make the process of attracting companies less political. She added that the city needs new policies that set clear guidelines about when companies should receive tax abatements or other types of incentives, rather than relying so much on city commissioners' opinions.

It shouldn't have taken a hastily arranged study for city officials to realize just how far behind Lawrence is in the arena of attracting new industry, businesses and jobs.

Due to the actions and policies of a relative handful of city commissioners and city hall staffers in recent years, Lawrence - which for many years was looked to as a model in sound growth - now is stuck in idle while other cities are making great strides.

The policies of these past elected commissioners, with the involvement of hand-picked individuals serving on various boards and commissions, has reinforced the belief and reality that Lawrence is one of the nation's most difficult and unfriendly cities in which to locate or build a new business. Lawrence's reputation is bad.

In the years following the end of World War II, Lawrence enjoyed excellent growth. Then complacency set in. Perhaps city leaders became cocky and didn't believe that any group dedicated to stopping growth could bring the city to its knees. They were mistaken, and Lawrence has learned a hard lesson that once momentum has been stopped, it is twice as hard to restart the engine and overcome inertia. Plus, the psyche of the city in terms of having a "can-do" positive outlook and attitude has been battered.

Lawrence has many needs if it is to take advantage of its numerous opportunities, but its bank account is almost empty. The city is not generating the new taxes needed to pay for long-overdue maintenance of city infrastructure, for city services, for recreational facilities and for developments that will insure a vigorous, healthy city in the years ahead. Overtaxed homeowners are carrying far too much of the burden.

Amyx certainly is aware of Lawrence's current condition and how it got this way. So is Hack. Understanding how we got into this fix is one thing. Changing it is another. It is going to be tough to break out of the mindset of many of the community's policymakers.

Lawrence has every opportunity to be a model city in every respect and this should be the goal of our elected officials. For years, this writer has suggested Lawrence's goal should be to be "America's finest university city." It's possible, but to do so is going to take courage, vision and hard work. Does Lawrence have the leaders it needs to achieve this worthy goal?

More studies, special commissions, costly consultants offering advice, and public meetings to take the community's temperature are not going to get the job done. It will take true leaders with the support of forward-looking residents.


Michael Capra 10 years, 2 months ago

thank you for not saying there names Rundle,Boog,Schauner,Hasse,Burrass,and all the planners and all the want to be urban planners. the city is tits up and all you get from planning dept is nothing try to get someone to call you back it will never happen because there never there and the director dosnt have a clue what anyone does in a day or where they are and as you know Dolph no matter what you want to do in lawrence the planning dept will find a way to say no and add so much cost to it you will go to another city

Ragingbear 10 years, 2 months ago

My eyes! The lack of proper grammar and punctuation burns my eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!

JohnBrown 10 years, 2 months ago

Dolph is re-writing history. Lawrence was a bedroom community living off of ever-rising property values, sales tax increases, and increasing per capita debt, long before the PLC came along and said our so-called "planning" lacks any long-term return on taxpayer investment. That's because the construction and real estate industry in Lawrence made the City's rules to benefit their short-term financial goals.

The same thing has happened nationally with so-called financial entrepenuers inventing these sub-prime loans and passing them off as 'investments'.

Now that the chickens have come home to roost, Dolph wants to blame anyone who tried to move us into a more sound financial position, rather than setting that blame at the feet of his real estate and homebuilding friends and business partners who sat on the city and planning commissions during the 90's.

Joshua Montgomery 10 years, 2 months ago

Looking back over the past couple of years, I can't help but notice that the World Company has supported every economic development incentive that the City of Lawrence has proposed. Even the ones that failed.

I am curios if this is a case of blanket support for economic development, or support for economic development that doesn't impinge on the World Company's monopoly? Pretty soon we are going to find out.

Communities across the nation have installed wireless broadband networks (at the tax payers cost, I might add) and touted them as an indicator that their communities are technology leaders. Look at Chaska, Minneapolis or Moorehead, MN or look west to Anaheim, CA. You'll see communities that are leaders in wireless broadband and community service.

As our community moves into the next century, Lawrence Freenet [ ] is building a cutting edge wireless broadband network right here in Lawrence, KS. Though our progress has been noted by news agencies both inside and outside Lawrence, we don't seem to get much public attention from the World Company.

As Freenet enters its next stage of development, I wonder if the World Company will support municipal involvement in an economic development project to build the next generation of broadband infrastructure? Or maybe the World Company's support for economic development ends at the revenue line of their balance sheet?

jonny_quest 10 years, 2 months ago

Ragingbear: It's mental syndrome-- rich kid inherents business in a small town, money begets special treatment for him & family, becomes an "adult" with a deeply embedded condenscending, entitlement attitude, uses business to spew influence to captive town for personal enrichment, becomes a senior brat, younger family members continue tradition...

BigPrune 10 years, 2 months ago

When was the last time a shopping center got built in this town? 8 or more years ago?

That's why there isn't any additional taxes coming in, and that is why the homeowners are getting saddled. The City says, "No more retail allowed." The City says, "We're broke, and we don't know why."

Walmart doesn't count, though it will help, but look how many years that took to get approval.

Kookamooka 10 years, 2 months ago

Complacency and arrogance are two perfect words to describe this town but I can add anothers. Self-satisfied and defensive.

How dare we criticize Lawrence! It's perfect just the way it is.

jayhawklawrence 10 years, 2 months ago

I think Dolph's editorials are very good even when I don't always agree with them. I enjoy them. I think we lose credibility in our arguments when we don't recognize the good that developers have done in this town. They take a lot of risk in order to make a reasonable profit. Seems to me that a lot of city parks were donated by one of our largest developers. In Kansas, there is a lot of polarization and petty bickering and not as much constructive dialogue as there could be. Personally, I would like to see Lawrence become more positive and informed about manufacturing, instead of this narrow focus on the biotech industries. We need to understand that if we are not growing we are in a recession.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Well, what is tax increment financing?(TIF) I'll tell you what it is. You go to the store with your goods, you pay for it at Wal-Mart, and there's a very good chance that that store has made a deal with the government that the sales taxes you are required to pay, that government requires you to pay, never go to the government. Instead, those sales taxes are kept by Wal-Mart and used to pay the cost of the store. And typically in those deals, the store is tax exempt, just like a church. Now, there are two ways that it's important to think about this. One is, that means your kid's schools, your police department, your library, your parks are not getting that money. And you'll notice we keep saying we're starved for money. We're twice as wealthy as we were in 1980, but we've got to close hospitals, and we've got to close schools, and we don't have money for all sorts of things like after-school programs, even though we're twice as wealthy. The second thing to think about is, imagine that you own Amy Goodman's or Juan's department store across the street. You suddenly have to compete with people whom the government is giving a huge leg up on. You think you would go broke after a while? Well, in fact, you will. And I tell about a man named Jim Weaknecht who owned a little store in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. He sold fishing tackle, hunting gear, stuff like that. And the way he made his living in his little tiny store, enough that he was able to have his wife stay at home and raise their three kids full time, was by charging less than a company called Cabela's. Well, then Cabela's came to town. This little city of 4,000 people made a deal to give Cabela's $36 million to build a store. That's more than the city budget for that town for ten years. It's $8,000 for every man, woman, and child in that town to have this store. And even though he charged lower prices, he was pretty quickly run out of business. That's not market capitalism, which is what Ronald Reagan said he was going to bring us. He said, you know, government's the problem, we need markets as a solution. Well, that's not the market. That's corporate socialism. And what we've gotten is corporate socialism for the politically connected rich-not all the rich, the politically connected rich-and market capitalism for everybody else.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Following the construction of the $88 million sewage treatment plant,which in and of itself increases the cost of community services, will be more: water and sewer lines streets and repairs houses public schools fire stations law enforcement manpower sidewalks snow removal bike trails and cross walks Traffic signals Traffic calming Strip Malls

*In general all of the above new infrastructure increases the cost of community services to all taxpayers.

*Meet the "Chamber anti economic growth team" responsible for shoving the above increases in the cost of community services down taxpayers throat. Developers Emergency Party

BigPrune 10 years, 2 months ago

That's a load of b.s. Merrill. Walmart pays taxes - they don't get some mythical free ride regarding sales taxes or property taxes.

The City says, "No retail." The City says, "We don't have any money, and we can't figure out why."

When was the last time someone built a new shopping center in this town? It's been 8 years at least.

I remember the City paid for a study regarding apartment buildings. It said that apartment buildings were a bigger drain and caused much more infrastructure costs to a City than any other type of development. Yet, all we ever see are new apartment buildings getting built on every corner.

How about a new shopping center somewhere. Is there any place for someone to build a shopping center in this town anymore? I doubt it.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

What could $ 88 million or less accomplish?

*Invest in exisiting infrastructure instead of allowing it to go to hell due to negligence.

*Repair streets and sidewalks in: Downtown Old west Lawrence Old East Lawrence Barker Brookcreek North Lawrence Oread

*Build a $17.5 million dollar library across the street from the New Hampshire parking garage(saves 10 million)

*Convert the existing library building into a convention center which would protect citizens from another TIF project plus save millions and millions of dollars. When library shelves and office space is removed there is a huge space. Lawrence does not need an extravagant building. Clean it up,do some remodel and landscape,landscape,landscape... we're set to go. Two large meeting spaces upstairs plus one downstairs and two existing smaller places in the current space.

*Provide development funding for a economic growth team in city hall. Apparently the Chamber of Commerce is not staffed accordingly. There is more transparency in City hall.

*Build the east Lawrence hike and bike trail

*Develop an exciting public transporation system complete with an appropriate maintenance facility.

*Build a Vo-Tech Campus

Investing in existing infrastructure pays back and is good for business.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

"BigPrune (Anonymous) says: That's a load of b.s. Merrill. Walmart pays taxes - they don't get some mythical free ride regarding sales taxes or property taxes."

Wal-Mart was used as an example because Wal-Mart, a multi billion dollar corporation, does get government assistance is many communities. Oread Inn is requesting tax dollar assistance in the form of a TIF.

The sixth and Wakrusa area required a mint in new infrastructure that goes on the backs of taxpayers.

Lawrence was over loaded in residential before the sub prime market hit.

Lawrence is over retailed which means there are not enough retail dollars in Lawrence to support more retail. New retail shopping space does not increase the availability of retail dollars

Kookamooka 10 years, 2 months ago

I'm lining up behind Merrill. I want some of that!

Vo-Tech is going to be the economic wave of the future. Those kids in college right now aren't going to be able to find good paying jobs for their skill sets. The high tech and white collar jobs that cost companies a bundle are being outsourced to India.

But...we'll always need mechanics, plumbers, welders, and the small businesses that really make our economy here in our town run. I think we should invest in them. The little guys. Mike Amyx is a great community leader and a barber. Trades people contribute to our community the same as those with big fancy college degrees from the University.

College isn't the answer for everyone. In fact, the debt accrued in college puts those young people in a bad economic place once they graduate and are forced to wait tables and work retail until they can find meaningful employment.

I predict KU will continue to see a decrease in enrollment as places like JCCC see an increase.

monkeyhawk 10 years, 2 months ago

Of course, the usual suspects are chiming in to defend their George Soros / Al Gore visions of how the world should be. They understand that the goal is to infiltrate and dominate at the lowest level - city government. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out what the "gang of three" had up their sleeves when they ran as a pack some years ago. Maybe those who are being fleeced the most were asleep at the wheel, or just to busy to see what devastation the amigos could impose on our city before they went into the voting booth. I suspect that most woke up before the last election and thus the outcome was an expressed desire for a much different direction.

It is unfortunate that our CC (for whatever reason) became embroiled in the Deciphera mess. Now it seems they fear to make any decision that might make the obstructionists angry. They need to understand that the majority who voted to elect them are their customers. We want tax relief and accountability. We want responsible spending and prudent budget decisions.

The years of "smart growth" are over. No need to cater to that fringe anymore. Purge the commissions and advisory boards and get on with the job of running our city properly.

jonny_quest 10 years, 2 months ago

It's probably never occurred in Lawrence, but maybe there is a long tradition of certain family businesses/city officials that collude for personal profit at the expense of the populace and city at large. Perhaps, that is the cause of the problems.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

The Vo-Tech campus is already available. The failed Tanger Mall could be the campus. Education is and has been good to the Lawrence economy. Some state legislators are looking at Vo-Tech this year. Ann Mah has some sincere interest in Vo-Tech.

Or it could become a light industrial center located directly on I-70. North 2nd street could be designated as a light industrial zone. No need for the airport project.

BigPrune 10 years, 2 months ago

The actions of the previous city commission gives us the crap we're dealing with today.

The certain mindset of some city staff is that of the previous commission -no growth at any cost.

Time to clean house. Corliss took out two people. Try 20 next time, Dave. We certainly don't have the growth today to justify a lot of these City jobs created when Lawrence was booming.

hawklet21 10 years, 2 months ago

I think a Vo-Tech sounds like a great idea. But, the world does always need more gas station clerks.

BigPrune 10 years, 2 months ago

If City government employees felt a slight threat to their jobs, don't you think they'd speed up the process when a company wants to come to town. In other words, no growth = no city jobs. Unless things change soon, it's time to downsize.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Rundle,Schauner and Boog group did approve a lot of new projects while in office. Perhaps too many. They were trying to build bridges with Hack and Amyx aka reaching across the aisle. In the process I feel they got used/burned and developers still came out way ahead while the tax cookie jar did not necessarily fare so well. Their plan for the SE industrial park was a smart idea. The leaders from the development community squashed that plan because they wanted to build more housing which increases the cost of community services. It was unfortunate for Boog,Schauner and Rundle who strived to bridge a gap.

Housing and retail did not suffer one little bit. In fact housing grew leaps and bounds.

New approved retail is on the community table aka Wal-Mart and Baur Farms so how can any chamber thinkers complain. The only major project declined was Wal-Mart ....which Lawrence,Kansas could have lived without.

average 10 years, 2 months ago

Kansas population growth is at 4/10ths of a percent per annum, and shrinking. US population growth is barely 1% and still slowing down. A stable population is coming. Demographics hold that there will most likely never be 3 million Kansans.

Why then do we expect and demand that our town grows at at least 2% or the world is ending? It just isn't going to happen that way.

That is reality out there. You can argue whether that's absolutely horrible, or a pretty good thing. I fall in the latter camp... 2% growth would mean 740,000 people in Douglas County within a 100 years (bigger than Omaha today), 2.2 billion Americans, and 48 billion people in the world. And, could we consider a slowdown on growth then?

Meatwad 10 years, 2 months ago

Do you really think Lawrence is going to be a great city that people love, when it has become completly taken over by these 'new businesses' that are just more chain retail stores, more chain restaurants, more chain banks, so that it will finally look like every other city in the U.S.? When it grows as big as Topeka with a crime rate to match? People will talk about how Lawrence used to be such a nice small city and wonder what happened. Bad planning is what will have happened.

toefungus 10 years, 2 months ago

Average is correct. Kansas is not a growth state and hence its cities will not be growth cities. True, Johnson County has grown, but significantly by draining population from the rest of the state. Lawrence has benefited by being close on a good highway. Lawrence will be a very angry town for a couple of years. The housing, a key component of Lawrence's growth, is failing. Everyone, from the local restaurant to the cities treasury, will take a hard hit. I think it is always best to focus on your strengths in bad times, and avoid looking back and finger pointing. We will get through this weak period.

BigPrune 10 years, 1 month ago

Since Booger, Bungle, Bauner this town has gone downhill. Lawrence doesn't have very many foreclosures, so you can't blame the national economy on Lawrence's regression. No, it is time to clean house at City Hall. They are like alcoholics with a never ending supply of booze, and they can't figure out why their livers are failing.

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