News and notes from around town:
• The frigid weather has the Lawrence Community Shelter facing some special challenges. Shelter director Loring Henderson told me that he has space for the people coming into the shelter, thanks to cooperation from area churches that are allowing their facilities to be used as overflow sites.
But the weather has made it difficult for volunteers to get to the shelter at times. Volunteers often provide the evening meal for shelter guests. Henderson said the shelter is in need of canned food items so that they have a back-up food supply if volunteers can’t make it. Large cans of pre-made pasta or soup work well, but the shelter is open to all types of menu options, Henderson said. Blankets also are in high demand.
Henderson, though, said he feels reasonably confident that most homeless people are finding an indoor space to sleep, based on reports from outreach workers who go to areas where the homeless are known to sleep outdoors.
“I do know of one who is still camping, though,” Henderson said. “It is a woman, actually, but everyone tells me she is fine. But I still worry as a matter of principle.”
People wanting more information about donating to the shelter, which is at 10th and Kentucky streets, can call 832-8864.
• It is not only the season for snow. It also is the season for what some may find just as annoying — City Commission campaigning. (Not me, mind you.) And in any City Commission campaign, there’s bound to be lots of talk about jobs. So, here’s some Lawrence jobs data for you to keep in mind as the campaign starts to heat up. (At least something is heating up.)
— Unemployment. Lawrence’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent at the end of 2010. That was up from 4.7 percent in December 2009. Lawrence’s unemployment rate, however, is below the statewide average of 6.4 percent. But — and this is a big but — the number of unemployed people in Lawrence grew at a much faster rate in December than it did statewide. Statewide, the number of unemployed people grew by 920, or 0.9 percent. In Lawrence and Douglas County, the number of unemployed grew by 461, or 15.4 percent. In case you are wondering, the number of unemployed in the county is 3,442.
In fact, the Lawrence metro area — which includes all of Douglas County — added unemployed folks faster than any other metro area in the state in December. The two largest metro areas — Wichita and Kansas City — saw their unemployment ranks drop by 1.8 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively. Topeka’s rose by 7.2 percent, and Manhattan’s was up by 4 percent.
— Jobs. One thing to remember about unemployment numbers is they don’t give you a very good picture about how many jobs are in Douglas County. Instead, the unemployment numbers just tell you how many people who live in Douglas County have a job somewhere, meaning as long as Douglas County residents can still find jobs in Topeka or Kansas City, our unemployment rate may not rise much.
But that is usually not what City Commission candidates are talking about when they campaign on jobs. They’re talking about the number of jobs available in Lawrence. Those numbers are a little harder to find, and unfortunately not as up to date.
But, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does keep track of the numbers. In June 2010, Douglas County had 45,956 jobs. That was down from 46,331 jobs in June of 2009. That’s a decline of 0.8 percent. What’s depressing, though, is to look at June 2001. Back then the county had 47,363 jobs. Since 9-11 and all the various bubble bursting, the county has lost about 1,400 jobs or about 3 percent of its total.
Granted, that’s just a look at one particular month. The BLS also creates an annual average for the county. Here’s a look at those numbers:
• 2001: 47,005 jobs
• 2002: 46,259 jobs
• 2003: 46,940 jobs
• 2004: 47,823 jobs
• 2005: 47,798 jobs
• 2006: 48,093 jobs
• 2007: 48,204 jobs
• 2008: 47,049 jobs
• 2009: 46,876 jobs.
The yearly average for 2010 isn’t yet completed. But the average for the first six months of 2010 is 46,361. That’s down from 46,975 — or 1.3 percent — during the first six months of 2009.
• Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials did recently confirm that the city just missed out on a major job announcement. Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development for the chamber, said Lawrence was one of two finalist for a new bakery facility by Bimbo Bakeries. The $30 million project, which includes 52 jobs, eventually was awarded to Topeka. Johnson said the company determined that none of Lawrence’s industrial sites — which mainly are in or near the East Hills Business Park — met their transportation needs.
In case you're wondering, Topeka donated a $600,000, 20-acre building site to the company, which will be next to Topeka’s Home Depot and Target distribution centers. Topeka’s economic development agency also is providing a cash incentive of $4,721 per job for up to 52 employees, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. Management positions at the plant pay an average wage of $65,000 or more, with a majority of the production positions earning about $19 an hour.
• Johnson said that project was another example of Lawrence’s need to have more industrial sites along Interstate 70. City commissioners recently approved a rezoning of 51 acres just east of the Lecompton interchange on I-70. But commissioners several months ago also approved industrial zoning for 155-acres immediately adjacent to the Lecompton interchange. But Johnson said that property still is not being marketed to potential companies by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. She said the owners of the property have not yet signed a simple form giving the chamber permission to list the property on the chamber’s online property listing site. She said that means the property also is not being marketed by the Kansas Department of Commerce. We’ll check in with the property owners to find out more.