Here’s guessing that an extra $7,000 a year would come in handy. That’s about how much more the average Kansan has been making per year than the average Lawrence resident.
New federal numbers released this week show that Douglas County’s longtime trend of having per capita incomes well below the statewide average continued in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
And the numbers also suggested that the numbers can’t entirely be explained away by the fact that Lawrence is a university community with lots of students who earn little to no wages. When compared with the other 11 communities in the Big 12 Conference, Lawrence had the ninth lowest per capita income, according to the new figures.
Lawrence leaders are well aware of the trend.
“These numbers are exactly why we talk about economic development so much, and have made a concerted effort over the last few years,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell. “I really do feel like we have some key infrastructure in place to take advantage of some growth in the future.”
Here’s a look at some of the other figures from the report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis:
• Douglas County’s per capita income for 2009 was $32,070, down 0.2 percent from 2008. Statewide, per capita income in 2009 was $39,173. It was down 2.1 percent from 2008 levels.
• From 2004 to 2009, Douglas County’s per capita income has grown 18.5 percent. During the same time period, per capita income statewide has grown 22.7 percent.
• Douglas County has fared better than Johnson County both in the last year and during the last five years. Well, at least by percentages. Johnson County’s per capita income in 2009 fell by 4.7 percent. From 2004 to 2009, per capita income grew by 13.8 percent in Johnson County — or about 5 percent less than Douglas County. Many Johnson County residents likely won’t offer to trade paychecks. Johnson County continues to be the only urban county in the state with per capita income greater than $50,000. Even with the downturn, per capita incomes in Johnson County checked in at $53,353.
But the numbers that may catch the attention of Lawrence residents more than any are the ones that show what has happened west of here in Manhattan. In 2004, Manhattan and Lawrence both had roughly the same per capita income of about $27,000 per year. By 2009, Lawrence’s had grown to about $32,000. Manhattan’s had soared to $40,358.
Tom Kern, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said that shows how large the impact the troop buildup at neighboring Fort Riley has been for Manhattan. But Kern also said it is the type of growth Lawrence residents shouldn’t expect.
“There’s no quick fix here,” Kern said. “We’re probably not going to recruit that 1,000 employee company. It will be 20, 50, 100 jobs at a time.”
But he believes the community is on the right track. He pointed to increased employment at pharmaceutical start-up firms such as Deciphera, Crititech, and about 60 new high-tech jobs that are now housed in the bioscience and technology incubator that is on Kansas University’s West Campus.
“But this isn’t a three-year or five-year deal,” Kern said. “We need to have elected officials and community leaders who have the persistence to go the long haul, and I believe we have that. We also have to have the population that has the patience.”