Here’s a look at the per capita GDP numbers of the 13 other university cities that City Hall leaders have said are similar to Lawrence.
1. Iowa City, Iowa: $39,256
2. Charlottesville, Va.: $37,800
3. Missoula, Mont.: $35,041
4. St. Cloud, Minn.: $33,451
5. Champaign-Urbana, Ill. $30,368
6. Columbia, Mo.: $30,268
7. Gainesville, Fla.: $29,960
8. Grand Junction, Colo.: $29,056
9. Bellingham, Wash.: $28,772
10. Athens-Clarke County, Ga.: $27,050
11. Johnson City, Tenn.: $26,285
12. Bloomington, Ind.: $25,965
13. Lawrence: $24,692
14. Chico, Calif.: $22,719
Lawrence isn’t being very productive these days.
New federal numbers that measure the overall size of a city’s economy found that Lawrence in 2008 ranked last among 34 cities in the Plains region in terms of per capita gross domestic product.
The new GDP numbers — which are considered a broad measure of economic health of a community — did not catch economic development leaders by surprise.
“This is one that a lot of economic development leaders and business leaders have been scratching their heads about,” said Roger Zalneraitis, economic development coordinator for the city.
Gross domestic product measures the amount of income produced in an area. The new report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis measured total GDP for all 366 metropolitan areas in the country. The report also broke the numbers down on a per capita basis to allow for easier comparisons between metro areas of different sizes.
Lawrence checked in with a per capita GDP of $24,692. That was up from $24,578 in 2007. But the 2008 total is actually less than it was in 2001, when it was $25,659. The numbers are adjusted for inflation.
The report broke the country into regions, and Lawrence’s per capita numbers were the lowest of the 34 cities in the Plains region. Lawrence was about $1,800 behind the next lowest, Joplin, Mo. Lawrence was well behind the region’s leader, Des Moines, Iowa, at $50,959.
City Hall leaders also maintain a list of college communities across the country that are considered similar to Lawrence. On that list of 14 cities, Lawrence ranked second to last.
The numbers indicate the city’s economic growth has not kept up with its growth in population, even though population growth has slowed over the latter half of the decade.
“This is a long-term concern,” Zalneraitis said. “It is not just a concern that has come up in the last year.”
Zalneraitis said the numbers show that Lawrence’s economy has never fully recovered from a national downturn following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
“Back then we did not have a downturn as big as what other counties experienced, but we also had no bounce back,” Zalneraitis said. “We’ve just kind of sat there. The question is why. It is a tough question to crack, but that is clearly what is going on.”
There was some positive news in the report. From 2007 to 2008, the total value of goods and services produced in the Lawrence area grew by 1.7 percent. That was far better than the national average of 0.8 percent, and was close to the 2 percent average for the Plains region.
Zalneraitis said the Midwest has fared better than many other areas of the country because the downturn in the real estate market has not been as severe here as it has been on the coasts.
But economic development leaders have said Lawrence may be suffering more than some other communities in the region because home construction does play a major role in the city’s economy. The city also is home to several manufacturers that make products for the construction industry.
The new report did show a dramatic drop in the role construction plays in the economy. In 2001, construction activity contributed $128 million to Lawrence’s GDP. In 2008, it contributed $78 million, a decline of 39 percent. That drop was the largest percentage drop of any city in the Plains region, and was well above the region’s average construction decline of 22 percent.