The overall expenditure of $1.5 billion over the past five years to improve and enhance Kansas' economic development is a sizable amount: $630 million spent by state agencies and an estimated $860 million in tax revenue that has been forgone at both state and local levels.
However, the amount spent by Kansas was just about in the middle of what five neighboring states (Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma) allocated for economic development.
Lawrence and Douglas County officials, as well as area residents, should be interested, disappointed and angered by the summation in a report by the Kansas Legislature's Division of Post-Audit of actions taken in Kansas communities to spur economic development. The five communities are Johnson County/Olathe, Douglas County/Lawrence, Finney County/Garden City, Ellis County/Hays and Crawford County/Girard.
Of the five communities, four reported they are worse off than they were a few years ago; only Johnson County officials said their community is better off. "Further," according to the Post-Audit report, "only Johnson and Finney counties currently have viable prospects for new large-scale economic development projects."
A Post-Audit team visited each of the listed communities in December 2007 and January 2008. At each community, team members interviewed city and county officials and sometimes other officials such as chamber of commerce representatives. They also toured the sites and observed new and recent developments, along with areas being considered for development.
The report on Lawrence and Douglas County:
"Officials we interviewed said that Douglas County and the City of Lawrence don't have a unified plan for how to spur economic development. Current county, city and chamber of commerce officials agree that providing financial assistance to companies is necessary. However, they say that elected officials are unwilling to make the necessary financial commitments - such as acquiring land and extending infrastructure. Douglas County and Lawrence officials are very interested in attracting bioscience companies to partner with researchers at the University of Kansas, but they contend the lack of investment in land, buildings and infrastructure have hindered this effort."
That's a dismal analysis of an area that once was a model for growth and development. What happened? It's obvious there is a lack of leadership in Lawrence, in the county and at the university.