News and notes from around town:
•A global animal health company has chosen Lawrence as the site for an expansion, and will bring 27 jobs to the city. Argenta has announced that it will move into the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus. The site will serve as a research and development center for the New Zealand-based company that does contract drug development work for a variety of firms in the animal health industry. The project will involve a $500,000 investment in laboratory equipment, and will bring 27 jobs to the city. No word yet on what those jobs are or salary ranges. Other details of the deal also weren’t immediately available. We’ll bring you more details as we gather them. The project, though, represents another victory for the West Campus incubator. The project has had success selling companies on the idea of being on the KU campus and having close access to KU researchers and students. This deal likely will accelerate the efforts to expand the incubator, which was built with a combination of public money from the city, the county, KU and the state’s bioscience authority.
• UPDATE: I've chatted with Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, and she has given me more details about the Argenta announcement. The 27 jobs will have an average salary of about $74,000 per year, but the jobs will be added in phases. The company expects to start with five jobs this year and then add about five jobs per year until they get to the 27 total in year five. The jobs will be scientist/research positions, and Johnson said her understanding was that even the lowest paying position at the Lawrence facility would be near $70,000 per year. The city is asking for an incentive from the city and the county, but not much of one. The county is being asked to make a one-time payment of $5,500 and the city is being asked to make a one-time payment of $5,000 to help the company with training expenses and other similar items. The six-year old company is receiving the bulk of its incentives from the state. The Kansas Bioscience Authority has agreed to provide a $400,000 grant to help the company set up it laboratory in the new facility. The Kansas Department of Commerce also is providing a smaller grant, Johnson said, likely in the range of about $20,000. Johnson said she expects a lease to be signed by the end of the year. She said her understanding is that the company plans to hire the bulk of its work force locally rather than transferring employees from an existing facility. Johnson, though, said the biggest benefit to the community is that the deal now gives her office more ability to market Lawrence as a player in the growing animal health sciences corridor that stretches from Manhattan to Columbia, Mo. Those two cities have been anchors for the corridor because of the veterinary schools at Kansas State and the University of Missouri. But Johnson said this deal shows that animal science companies also place a high value on being close to highly respected pharmacy schools.
"This really opens a door for us," Johnson said.
• Folks in the real estate industry will be among those applauding the loudest over a new jobs announcement for the city. New numbers for home sales in July also gave local real estate agents something to cheer about — although it was a long way from a standing ovation type of moment. Home sales were up in July, according to numbers gathered by the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Realtors sold 121 units, up 12 percent from the 108 sold in July 2010. But for the year, home sales continue to lag both 2010 and 2009 totals. The board reports that 683 residential sales have been made through July. That’s down 20 percent from the 857 that were made through July 2010. It’s also down 10 percent from what was considered a dismal 2009. Particularly disturbing news for the construction industry is that sale of newly built homes is faring even worse. Sales of new construction are down 44 percent from a year ago, and down 39 percent from 2009. Thus far, just 41 newly constructed homes have been sold in the city. Selling prices, however, are holding up or increasing slightly even in the down market. The median sale price stands at $160,000 compared to $155,000 through July of 2010. The average price stands at $182,057, nearly unchanged from last year’s $181,909 mark. But homes are taking longer to sell. The median number of days on market now stands at 59. That’s up from 39 a year ago. It also is up from 45 in 2009. It will be interesting to watch the numbers the rest of the year and see if July’s increase is a sign of better things to come. If not, 2011 could end up being one of the worst years on record for the Lawrence real estate industry.
• Another sign that the market is improving some comes in the category of foreclosures. The Douglas County Appraiser’s office reports that 100 homes have sold through the foreclosure process through July 2011. That’s down from 151 through the same time period in 2010.