As teachers across the community grade final exams, Lawrence City Hall leaders are getting scores back of their own.
The results: The grades on economic development wouldn’t make many mothers happy, but then again, there are plenty of people bewildered by that subject these days.
“It does show that we’ve seen a downturn, but the sky is not falling,” said City Commissioner Aron Cromwell. “The Lawrence economy is still strong, but I think we would all like to see it stronger.”
City Hall staff members have released the city’s first performance management “scorecard,” as city commissioners prepare for an upcoming goal-setting session.
The city in 2007 adopted the new performance management system, which attempts to create specific, measurable goals for various city departments to meet. Commissioners said the approach is needed, especially in the economic development arena.
“I think we’ve been a little bit too subjective in our analysis in the past,” said City Commissioner Mike Dever. “We need to be a little more objective in evaluating whether we are doing everything we can to grow our economy and our job market.”
The scorecard, which is still in draft form, gives city commissioners their first peek at how they’re meeting their new numerical goals.
In the area of economic development, the city measured 11 separate categories for 2008.
The city met or exceeded the goal in six cases. It failed to meet the goal in five other areas, which included high-profile goals such as jobs, wages and retail strength.
Here’s a look:
• The city set a goal to have job growth keep pace with the rate of population growth. To accomplish that in 2008, the city needed to add 369 new jobs. Instead, the city lost 953 jobs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• When it comes to the amount of money people have in their wallets, the city sought to have median household income grow by a rate greater than inflation. Based on 2007 numbers — the most recent available when the city put together the scorecard — median household income fell by 2.3 percent.
• The city made a goal of having the average wage paid by a Lawrence firm grow at a rate greater than inflation. The average wage — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — did grow from $31,304 to $32,500. But that was an increase of 3.8 percent. Inflation for the Midwest checked in at 4.3 percent for the same period.
• The city sought to have its retail pull factor — a measure of the balance of retail spending flowing in and out of the city — increase. But in 2008, the pull factor declined by 3 percent. The city posted a pull factor of .97, indicating that it loses slightly more retail dollars to other communities than it attracts.
• In another retail category, though, the city met its goal. The city set a goal to have its sales tax receipts grow at a rate faster than the state’s sales tax growth. For 2008, city sales tax collections grew by 3.6 percent, while the state’s overall collections were down 2.6 percent.
• The city strived to have its vacancy rates for industrial, office and retail space be below the average for the Kansas City metro area. According to data from a regional commercial real estate company, the city met that goal on all three fronts. Vacancy rates in 2008 for industrial were 3.9 percent in Lawrence, compared with 5.9 percent in Kansas City; 11.5 percent for office vs. 17.1 percent; and 5.4 percent for retail vs. 9.8 percent in Kansas City.
• The city also set several property value-related goals. The city met its goal of having its nonresidential tax base grow. Nonresidential property made up 29.4 percent of the city’s overall tax base, up from 28.2 percent in 2007. The city did not meet its goal of having residential property values increase at a rate greater than inflation. Total residential values were up 2.4 percent. Commercial values were up 4.2 percent, which met the city’s goal of outpacing the growth of residential.
City commissioners said some of the numbers are concerning, despite national economic struggles.
“We had negative job growth in the community, but we know that some other communities around us were able to grow jobs during the time period,” Lawrence Mayor Rob Chestnut said. “We need to pay attention to why that happened.”
Chestnut said the retail numbers also concerned him because he thinks Lawrence should consistently be attracting more shoppers than it loses.
“With KU football games and the other events we have, we have more opportunities to attract outside shoppers than many communities do,” Chestnut said.
Cromwell, who was elected to his first term in April, said he didn’t want the city to overlook the numbers.
“Just because the economy is bad, we take that into consideration, but that doesn’t mean we’re 100 percent off the hook,” he said.
Chestnut and Dever both made improving Lawrence’s job market and economic development efforts key campaign issues when they took the top two spots in April 2007 elections. Job and business growth also was a hot-button issue in last month’s election.
Despite the lagging numbers, Dever and Chestnut said the city has been working hard on the issue.
Both men pointed to funding the city has provided for a new bioscience incubator building that will be constructed on Kansas University’s West Campus in the next year.
The city also has been redrafting its economic development polices related to tax abatements and other incentives. Chestnut said he thought such work was important, even if it doesn’t produce immediate results.
“It is critical that we have a common vision on what we want to do because it has created controversy in the past,” Chestnut said.
He said he now hopes to meet with Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Douglas County Commission and other stakeholders to discuss how the community decides what type of businesses it pursues.
Economic development issues also are expected to be a major topic at the city’s upcoming goal-setting session. That study session will be at 3 p.m. May 26 at City Hall.