Archive for Friday, October 30, 2009

Job forum looks at city’s strengths, weaknesses

About 120 people turned out Thursday for an event aimed at discussing ways to spur new job growth in Lawrence. Concerned Lawrence residents who gathered at the event hope to propose a new plan to the city.

October 30, 2009


A diverse group of about 120 area residents agreed on at least one point Thursday night — Lawrence needs to increase its efforts to attract jobs to the community.

A “Community Forum on Job Growth” brought out a larger than expected crowd to Lawrence High School where everybody from developers to neighborhood activists talked about how to bring more jobs to the city.

“The purpose of the exercise tonight was to show people what they have in common,” said Tom Kern, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. “Now we want to build a strategy around that. We’re taking the approach of let’s build a policy around what people agree on.”

At first glance, a clear-cut point of agreement was a need for the community to do more to capitalize on research conducted at Kansas University.

After a series of roundtable discussions, the audience came up with seven areas of strength that the community has. Audience members were then asked to vote on which areas should be high priorities when it comes to crafting a job creation strategy.

Audience members placed dots by each topic, and Kern said it was clear that the KU research component had the most votes, although it will be about a week before organizers of the event formally tally all the votes. Each audience member had 10 dots, so there were more than 1,000 votes to count.

Audience members also listed seven areas of weakness that the community has. Identifying which category led the pack there was more difficult. Kern said at least three areas had significant numbers of votes: Lack of a communitywide vision; City Hall’s business environment; and a general lack of competitive spirit when it comes to economic development.

The organizers of the forum — which included the chamber of commerce, the city, the county, the League of Women Voters and the Journal-World — will put out a report summarizing the vote tallies for each of the topics in about a week, Kern said.

In about 60 days, Kern hopes the organizers will be able to use the information from the meeting to present a proposed job creation policy for elected leaders and community members to consider.

Several elected leaders who attended the forum said they believed the event was a good first step.

“I’m hopeful that in the end it will show some consensus on priorities,” said County Commissioner Jim Flory.

Here’s a look at the seven strengths listed by audience members:

• Educational opportunities in the area;

• Geographic location;

• High quality of life offered;

• Potential to capitalize on KU technology and research;

• A vibrant downtown;

• Educated work force;

• Access to a well-developed transportation network.

Here’s a look at the seven limitations that were identified by audience members:

• A lack of technical training for workers;

• City Hall’s climate toward businesses and a cumbersome development code;

• An overall anti-business perception;

• A lack of competitive spirit on economic development matters;

• A lack of long-term planning for the community;

• An imbalance between the cost-of-living and the wages paid to employees;

• A general lack of vision and leadership.

Attendees also were presented with several sets of statistics about job growth in the county. Roger Zalneraitis, economic development coordinator for the city, said that Douglas County has lagged the state in terms of job growth for much of the decade, but has seen the downturn accelerate recently.

“We lost more jobs in this county than any other county in the state in 2008,” Zalneraitis said. “In 2008 the story here began to change pretty drastically.”


cowboy 8 years, 7 months ago

Waiting for KU research to drive this economy is a fairy tale. Educational opportunities have a large hole in the middle , local vo-tech programs in viable trades would generate jobs for our younger folks. Bioscience is so , well , 2008 , there is a 2 trillion dollar industry emerging in wind power and we are right on the geographic edge. companies like Siemens are investing in plants in SW Kansas , vo-tech programs are starting for turbine techs. We are sitting hoping for bio Science. Instead of holding meetings with flip charts perhaps the C of C folks and the city should be targeting the list of companies that will be involved in the wind energy development industry and start making some jobs happen here.

The city should team with the state to bring a package of eco devo funding develop a business incubation district for small locally owned start ups.

While the meeting in itself is an effort to do something it is no substitute for concrete efforts to obtain a result. Group think has little impact on getting jobs into the city. Hard work at identifying opportunities and being on the forefront in seeking those companies will garner results.We need doer's not talkers.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

This meeting was dominated by chamber member/thinkers as far as numbers were concerned. So when the results are printed don't expect a lot of new thinking to appear. The thoughts are the same as they were 35 years ago. Giving tax dollars away is still high on the list.

It was a congenial atmosphere however. Why do so many stay home when opportunities arise to make a strong statement?

It was agreed Lawrence is an attractive downtown.... not necessarily vibrant at the moment. So why are the powers that be allowing a "family friendly" downtown to die?

The "Green Collar" industry was not getting enough support from this crowd. Cowboy has it right. I believe this is where a lot of new economic growth is located.

BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

The City needs to encourage small businesses to thrive through a streamlined, quick and inexpensive planning process because small businesses are the backbone of this country. Concentrating on more than just research from KU, Lawrence needs to become a well rounded community for employers from blue collar, white collar, and retail opportunities.

Small businesses employ more people than big corporate giants and they have far fewer layoffs. This is an area the City needs to concentrate on especially now that the national economy is suffering so we can be at the ready when the national economy turns around. It will also help our reputation nationally as a business friendly city. We have years to prepare so we need to get busy.

thinkagain 8 years, 7 months ago

It was not dominated by the Chamber. And if it was, it was because THEY showed up. All the sponsors invited their membership and it was open to the public. Don't whine. It was a good effort and I think the information will be put to good use.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Actually the forum was fun and the cookies were sweet. The "anti business" table I chose was very interesting and not what I expected. This is an area that might see change.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Don't waste tax dollars on bricks for Mass Street

The Boulder situation is unique in that it is situated in the middle of a high level of college foot traffic/student residential. Tons of students basically have to pass through this area.

Downtown Lawrence is not that unique situation.

I have spent time in Boulder before and after. Personally I enjoyed “the hill” more as a street. Then again I was always located nearby if not in the rockies so it was nothing to dwell on for very long.

Parking could be prohibited on Mass without going to the extreme expense of laying brick. Placing giant planters throughout would provide a pleasant ambiance. Planters could be used to block off either ends of the blocks which at the same time still provides for a variety of uses. Leaving the east-west streets open is a must. Landscape Landscape Landscape.

It is it is my opinion that vans,full size pick-ups and all suv's should be prohibited from parking on Mass due to substantial obstruction of view when backing out.

Want to create more business in downtown instead of destroying downtown as a family friendly experience? Make use of existing resources aka empty buildings with retail that is family friendly.

Bring in Lands End,Banana Republic,Old Navy, Sony Style and Apple. Although I've heard Banana Republic declined an offer due to our over saturated retail space throughout Lawrence. 3-4 of these stores are located in the plaza so might fit perfect in our downtown.

LEGO stores are unique. There one can discover the wonderful world of Legos with great fanfare. These stores offer items exclusive to LEGO stores and a lot of the original sets that are difficult to find. The closest store is St Louis. This is truly family friendly experience. Downtown has the foot traffic. The more new foot traffic the better for Mom and Pops as well.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Lets make use of another tool aka tourism without spending 10's of millions of tax dollars.

Make plans for two sidewalk sales next year. One in April and one in October while students and locals are NOT on vacation. Let's maximize the opportunities.

Next summer make plans for a two day massive event on Mass Street that includes Art,Music,local food suppliers/farmers,micro brewers and local nurseries. Try to schedule the event on days when things are quiet in the kcmo/joco metro.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Many people might be surprised to learn that the largest employer in the United States is the small business owner. All the small business owners combined employ more than 52 percent of the nations employees. Perhaps that is where the primary focus should be.

No need to rush and make mistakes. This is will take time so we may as well sit back,relax and go with the flow.

Small businesses are important to our economic recovery because they create two out of every three new jobs. "Green Collar Jobs" aka Blue and white collars jobs is where the money is and new small industry. Hutchinson is already getting a manufacturing plant (Siemens, I believe) for wind turbine nacelles. Lawrence should be aggressively seeking similar opportunities, including meteorological skills and technology involved in alternative energy siting, repair facilities, etc. What more needs to be said.

Tax abatements are unreliable and get into my expendable cash. That is cash that I could spend more productively supporting a local business. My local spending dollar is my best vote. There is plenty of documented history revealing that once the abatement expires receivers of such pack up and move on. Lawrence,Kansas cannot afford such activity. I can spend those tax dollars aka my expendable cash far more prudently.

In the retail market, tax abatements and other incentives provide a new tenant with an unfair advantage while existing business people take an unfair hit. Suddenly existing retail stores have to compete with people whom the government is giving a huge leg up on. This is unfriendly to existing business owners. Too often tax deals only go back to new retail owners to help pay for a new store which in a way makes the new retail unit tax exempt.


Agriculture....don't we just love to eat fresh produce. Free State Brewery recently revealed they spent $250,000 on locally grown goods. Four days a week I deliver locally produced organic tofu about a ton and a half weekly. Made from Mo-Kan organic soybeans. One of our best customers is Price Chopper/Hen House.

Two weeks ago I was informed that this large grocery chain is constantly in the market for local goods. That day he would in this area shopping for apples. California can no longer meet their demands as the Colorado River water is being restricted. Consequently local produce is a big item and the demand is going to grow. Local farmland is ever more valuable as a result. The market for local produce is on the way up. We need our farmland. Local food is a viable local industry on the move. The Price Chopper people began this push 3 years ago that I am aware and do meet with local producers once a year. Their subscription program is growing each year as well.

Lots of folks love that mouth watering fresh local produce.....

Also on radio news today talk of a BIO MASS operation in Missouri with 10,000 acres set aside.

BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence employment started dropping dramatically in 2005 and has continually dropped ever since. What happened in 2005 that made employment drop so much? The Progressive controlled City Commission passed the new development code.

Thank you, thank you....even though I am a Mensa member (even though I never attended college), I do not deserve a prize for the obvious conclusion above.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence cannot sustain the "boom town housing economics" and laissez faire planning. No community can sustain "boom town economics". Too many eggs in a bound to end basket.

The Kansas City/JOCO and Topeka job markets and wages are superior to Lawrence markets... the bottom line. From my observation over the years big industry prefers larger cities. Ford and GM located in the KCMO metro for example. Sprint in the JOCO metro. Lawrence is not straved for culture but the KCMO metro is loaded.

According to national radio news KCMO metro has a fair priced housing market.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

"Boom town economics" brings on inflationary property values = high taxes etc etc. When is the last time anyone heard of inflation economics being worshipped?

kubmg 8 years, 7 months ago

I live in Colorado Springs - land of religious conservatism and extremely low property / business taxes. Our community hasn't attracted good jobs in years. We are losing more good paying jobs to other communities all the time. On the other hand, Boulder and the Denver Metro Area have been gaining great paying jobs for years. Boulder has high taxes but a very high quality of life, great schools, a friendly biking culture and access to good transportation. I'm sure the mountains help but Lawrence and Boulder are both great college towns. Lawrence should have no problem competing for good paying jobs. I've been looking to move back for years, have been offered a few opportunities and in each case turned down the opportunity do in large part to pay. The Lawrence-Topeka and JC area do not pay well. That's a fact.

boot2009 8 years, 7 months ago

If you have an opinion--go to these types of events! Why get on the blogs and state your wise advice when you could have actually been at an event where your voice was needed and requested?

The old saying "if you didn't vote you can't complain about who was elected?" rings true for this type of situation too.

BigPrune 8 years, 7 months ago

Do to anonymity, I cannot either confirm or deny that I was in attendance at this forum.


thinkagain 8 years, 7 months ago

Well at least we will all recognize you if you ever are at a forum One-eye. You'll apparently look very uncomfortable as you sit ramrod straight at the table pontificating.

kansanbygrace 8 years, 7 months ago

2005 also coincides with the accumulated sum of over 450 more new residences than the market could support. We had just jammed through ever more commercial development even though Riverfront and Tanger malls had already proven unsustainable. There were more real estate agents than competent craftsmen...a truly ridiculous imbalance of people power and money.
Lawrence wastes 'way too much money on clever leeches and not enough responsible skilled producers.
Another extremely valuable asset is the fertility of the Kansas River farmland, which is nearly all occupied generating non-human-food commodity wheat, corn, soybeans and alfalfa for export. This region could regain its status as a major vegetable source for eastern Kansas and western Missouri and provide productive employment for thousands of people.
Not all effective employment need consist of pushing buttons and exploitation of the productive effort of foreigners. Why do the local geniuses imagine that employment opportunity needs to move in from outside? We have brains, educated intelligent people, reasonable housing, good schools and a ton of unemployed people. I think the developers, investors, and bankers are overlooking the potential of local investment in local productive business. There is absolutely no reason why Lawrence money doesn't build a solar/wind/smart technology industry from our own resources or other productive industries. What those "leaders" lack is realistic vision.

KsTwister 8 years, 7 months ago

Few companies manufacture anymore, that is what America use to do----build things, make things and sell them in this country. I suggest for all the empty industrial buildings in the city be given a very nice package to put Lawrence's base back to work at real quality jobs not the "this will do to get by" customer service,food service and cleaning services jobs. As for those of us white collar employees, Kansas City ---better pay;better choices. And AE we are sorry and if you want a satellite plant then maybe we should talk? These high school kids need something to do while paying for college.

thefactsare 8 years, 7 months ago

merrill, have you paid any attention to the incentives given to Siemens? You want the city to go after wind energy manufacturers but you have absolutely no idea what type of incentives are required with that type of business recruitment effort.

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