Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2011

Town Talk: City loses bid to keep expanding engineering firm; mayor has ideas on downtown panhandling; city may form committee to promote Lawrence as retirement destination

May 19, 2011

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News and notes from around town:

• While there has been lots of good news surrounding Kansas University’s School of Engineering this week, there’s bad news coming out of one of the city’s major engineering firms.

EN Engineering — a thriving company formerly known as Wheatland Systems — has 65 engineers at its offices at 2110 Del., and has been looking for a location to expand that high-paid workforce significantly. Local economic development leaders have now learned that expansion won’t happen in Lawrence. The company is close to signing a lease for a vacant building in Olathe. That means not only will Lawrence lose out on the 30 or so jobs the company is likely to produce in the coming years, but it also will lose the 65 jobs that already exist today.

The loss is a bitter disappointment for the local economic development community. Chamber, city, county and several private development leaders have been working behind the scenes on options to keep the company. First, they worked on a deal to expand the company’s building on Delaware Street, but when that deal appeared not to meet the company’s needs, work began on a proposal to construct a new building at East Hills Business Park. Late in the process, however, the company notified local leaders that they were going with the vacant building in Olathe.

Community leaders have long been talking about how the city needs an “economic development home run.” Whether this project would have been that home run is a subjective matter, but I think everybody would have viewed it as at least a strong double off the wall. The company largely designs automated systems for industry. Business has been good lately. The company has a particularly strong foothold in the oil and natural gas industries, which are some of the few industries around that still have the ability to write big checks.

From what I’ve gathered, there is a fairly significant disagreement among some in the private sector and some in the public sector about why Lawrence wasn’t able to keep this company. To be honest, I’m still trying to wrap my hands around that and sort through the different pieces of information I’ve been given from multiple parties. But I get the sense that this is the type of loss that will require some fence-mending. That will be important work to do since the community now has 467 acres of property at the former Farmland Industries site that it hopes to attract companies to in the near future.

What is clear, though, is that this loss will smart for awhile. Tom Kern, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, called it “hard to accept,” and said he’ll look for take-away lessons from the project.

“These are the type of jobs we want to attract to Lawrence and they certainly are the type of jobs we want to keep in Lawrence,” Kern said.

• In talking with Mayor Aron Cromwell for an article about the homeless, we also got on the subject of panhandling in downtown. Cromwell told me he’s been a little disappointed that more action hasn’t come out of previous discussions about how to address panhandling.

There previously had been talk by downtown merchants about printing cards to give to customers reminding them that supporting panhandlers can have some negative consequences. The card was envisioned to list local social service agencies that people could donate money to instead, and it also would list organizations that can provide help to the homeless or people in need.

Cromwell also had suggested that the city explore the idea of putting up parking meter-like devices that basically would be donation machines. The idea is that if downtown pedestrians have some pocket change they want to donate, they could put it in the meter instead of giving it to a panhandler. The money in the meter then would be collected by the city and donated to social service agencies who help the homeless. There also have been ideas of signs downtown reminding folks not to support panhandlers. None of those ideas, though, seem to have taken off.

Cromwell said he’s still convinced that a public education campaign is a vital part of addressing the concerns that have been raised about panhandlers and transients in downtown. There’s a public listening session about downtown issues set for 5:30 p.m. today (Thursday) at City Hall. We’ll see if the issue comes up.

• Another issue the mayor has brought up is how Lawrence can become a more attractive place for seniors to retire. It looks like he will get some help in promoting that issue. City Commissioner Hugh Carter is proposing that the city create a “Senior Preparedness Committee.” The group would look at the best practices of established retirement destinations. The group then would try to put together a 10-year plan for Lawrence to become a significant player — at least in the Midwest — for retirees. The City Commission will consider creating the new group at a future meeting.

Comments

Bud Stagg 3 years, 11 months ago

Good Job Lawrence! That's ok, we'll just raise the mill levy or artificially inflate the already inflated home values, or both, to cover the lost tax revenue. When will the leaders of this town learn that commercial is what we need to attract? Give them the damn tax breaks. Their employees then buy houses, shop at stores, etc, which generates sales taxes, property taxes, and moves the local economy.

We have leaders who do not understand the game, they are playing soccer when we need a homerun.

WilburM 3 years, 11 months ago

So you know exactly what happened, eh? There are lots of elements of plant/firm location, and amazingly, taxes are only one component. My guess is that the city/chamber did a great deal to keep this firm here. It's certainly worth finding out more, but to simplistically assert one cause or another with no facts is less than productive. That said, this is really disappointing that a university town can't keep this kind of firm. Maybe the procees should have been more public, rather than less.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 11 months ago

"From what I’ve gathered, there is a fairly significant disagreement among some in the private sector and some in the public sector about why Lawrence wasn’t able to keep this company."

I don't know anything more about it than what's in the article, but it sounds to me that someone in Olathe had a vacant building that meets the criteria of the company, and they made them a deal they couldn't refuse.

In which case it isn't a matter of Lawrence being "business unfriendly," but more a case of the holders of commercial real estate not wanting to offer a good enough deal to keep the company here. Does that include East Hills? If so, why?

And it may be that the folks in Olathe were desperate. Is Lawrence just not desperate enough yet?

gccs14r 3 years, 11 months ago

Or maybe it's because we keep cutting school funding, or won't fix the streets properly, or have poor bus service, or keep giving Compton huge gimmees.

sr80 3 years, 11 months ago

Or maybe a majority of the employees live in johnson county, no more driving on the k-10 speedway ! That would be enough for me to move.

matchbox81 3 years, 11 months ago

Agreed. Company might have also gotten tired of constantly driving to KC for business meetings, and just felt like it was closer to the action in Olathe.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 11 months ago

Just wondering if the city government of Olathe gave the company tax abatements or other incentives to lure them there and away from Lawrence. If that is what made the difference, then we were penny wise and pound foolish. If that was the case.

Betty Bartholomew 3 years, 11 months ago

Isn't a sign of the end times retirees and college students mingling?

LadyJ 3 years, 11 months ago

Property taxes are a big consideration for retirees and Lawrence property taxes are on the rise. Combine that with seriously overvaluing of property by the county and Lawrence will not look too attractive. I hear North Dakota is very cheap to live in if you're retired.

irvan moore 3 years, 11 months ago

i think the retired people they want to attract are the well to do ones, not mom and pop on social security.

Bud Stagg 3 years, 11 months ago

My comment was generic, I have no idea what the real reason for their relocation was. My point is, It just seems we lose on every deal. Virtually every other city has made themselves more attractive in one way or another than Lawrence. I think personally they read the bickering that goes on here. We need leadership that will bring us together on a goal.

irvan moore 3 years, 11 months ago

our leadership seems to have a goal, promote and protect downtown at the cost of everything else.

xclusive85 3 years, 11 months ago

except they don't even do a good job of that.

Steve Jacob 3 years, 11 months ago

" vacant building in Olathe" means that got a sweet offer. Not sure if landlords gives deals in Lawrence, even for long empty areas.

BigPrune 3 years, 11 months ago

Don't forget, in Lawrence, in order to be considered by the Chamber, you also must be a member of the Chamber. Were the good ol' boys just trying to take care of each other first on this one? Lawrence has vacant office buildings all over town, don't we? Perhaps creativity was set aside by the bean counters.

George Lippencott 3 years, 11 months ago

Retirement Community?? We must be looking for millionaires. Normal; retirees are on a fixed income or close to it. They can not afford to live in a town/county that raises taxes at two to three timers the rate of inflation.

Or are we going to let them figure that out after they have been here a while. Does this great liberal paradise believe in truth in advertising? Maybe only when business does it??

Richard Heckler 3 years, 11 months ago

"Another issue the mayor has brought up is how Lawrence can become a more attractive place for seniors to retire. It looks like he will get some help in promoting that issue. City Commissioner Hugh Carter is proposing that the city create a “Senior Preparedness Committee.” The group would look at the best practices of established retirement destinations. The group then would try to put together a 10-year plan for Lawrence to become a significant player — at least in the Midwest — for retirees. The City Commission will consider creating the new group at a future meeting."

Forget the committee. Lawrence Kansas is expensive,high taxes,high water rates,cold in winter,no ski slopes = no mountains,no oceans,no Florida style,no San Diego style,NOT new York City and not even Kansas City.

Quit trying to make Lawrence something that it isn't. It's a waste of tax dollars and our time.

Lawrence has a lot of empty residential = reckless city management.

Let the people who build these living centers with no market for such activity figure it out. All incentives NEED TO COME from the property owners NOT ME!

Stay out of my tax dollar wallet!!!

BigPrune 3 years, 11 months ago

Like that $18 Million boondoggle library that will be obsolete the day it is completed, huh? Those high water rates are paying off old infrastructure for a sewer system replacement from 15 years ago in an old neighborhood - why couldn't those people pay for it?

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