News and notes from around town:
• Somebody forgot to tell us to bounce. There are new numbers out that show while many cities across the country were experiencing a bounce-back year in 2010, Lawrence did not. In fact, by one measure, Lawrence’s economy performed among the worst in the country in 2010. Federal number crunchers, as they do each year, have estimated the size and growth rate for the economy of every metro area in the country. (For you number nerds, we’re talking about the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and its estimates for Gross Domestic Product. For everybody else without a pocket protector, we’re talking about how large a city’s economy is and how much it is growing.) In 2010, the feds found that Lawrence’s economy grew by 0.1 percent. That’s significantly less than the average of 2.5 percent for other metro areas across the country. In fact, Lawrence’s performance ranked it in the bottom 25 percent of all metro areas for 2010. Specifically, the city ranked 300th out of 366 metro areas.
Even worse, the feds break down a community’s economy into sectors. Our breakdown looks kind of like the Kansas City Chiefs' roster — there are problems in lots of areas. Of the 13 categories measured, Lawrence’s economy declined in eight of them:
• Natural resources and mining.
• Non-durable goods manufacturing.
• Transportation and utilities.
• Financial activities.
• Professional and business services.
• Education and health services.
• Leisure services.
• And the always popular category of other services.
What area helped our economy the most in 2010? Well, it is an area that we tend to fight over — trade, such as retail and wholesale trade. Other areas of growth included the information sector and the government sector. Construction basically was flat. (Remember, housing construction has been in the tank, but all that roadwork counts toward our construction economy.)
I know, I know, you like comparisons. Here’s how our growth rate stacks up against some area cities and others that have Big 12 ties (which is getting tougher to determine, by the way.)
- Austin, Texas: 7 percent
- Manhattan: 5.3 percent
- Waco, Texas: 4.2 percent
- Boulder, Colo: 4 percent
- Columbia, Mo.: 3.4 percent
- Joplin, Mo.: 2 percent
- Oklahoma City: 1.7 percent
- Kansas City (Mo. and Kan.): 1.5 percent
- Topeka: 1.4 percent
- St. Jospeh, Mo.: 1.2 percent
- Lincoln, Neb.: 1.2 percent
- Ames, Iowa: 0.4 percent
- Omaha, Neb.: 0.4 percent
- Springfield, Mo. 0.4 percent
- Lawrence: 0.1 percent
- Wichita: Negative 0.4 percent
- Tulsa, Okla.: Negative 0.6 percent
But there is some good news in this. Lawrence’s ranking does improve if you look at how its economy has grown during the last three years. During the last three years, Lawrence’s economy has grown, on average, by 1 percent per year. And that is, in fact, quite a bit better than most of the communities on that list. Lawrence would rank seventh on that list of 17 communities. Only Austin, Columbia, Iowa City, Manhattan, Oklahoma City, and Waco had higher growth rates than Lawrence during that three year period.
So make what you want of the numbers. It is a big broad measure of all the goods and services we produce during a year. Like most big broad measures it can mean a lot to some number nerds or it can mean very little to the men and women who get up every morning and punch a time clock.
• Here’s some news on the economic front that is a little more tangible. Work has begun to build a new warehouse for Berry Plastics in northwest Douglas County. Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, tells me that grading of the site has begun. That’s a relief to many economic development leaders across the county. For much of 2010, economic development leaders were working hard to help Berry win the necessary approvals — including a tax abatement — to build a massive 675,000-square-foot warehouse and printing facility on a site just west of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. The company filed for a building permit in March of this year, and then the project seemed to enter an odd state of limbo. Negotiations between Berry and the New York-based hedge fund that ultimately will own the building seemed to drag on and on, and privately some local leaders were beginning to wonder if something had gone wrong. Well, the dirtwork is the best sign yet that the $20 million project is going to be a reality. The new warehouse doesn’t add a tremendous amount of new jobs to Berry’s workforce — about a dozen. But economic development leaders have said the project is critical to the long-term future of Berry Plastics in Lawrence. The warehouse, it is hoped, will make it possible for Berry to grow its manufacturing operations in Lawrence. Berry has been on a growth curve in the past. The company now has about 900 employees in Lawrence. Its operations have been growing as the company has been making a more environmentally friendly line of plastic drink cups.
• Plastic will not be on display at an event in downtown this Saturday. Rather steel and iron — as in abs of steel and muscles that pump iron. Beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday in Watson Park, about 50 people will compete in the third annual Next Level Games, a type of strongman competition that will involve flipping 400 pound tractor tires, pulling a half-ton truck down Seventh Street (Seventh between Tennessee and Kentucky will be closed during the event), pushing a weight sled 160 yards, and other such child’s play. The event is hosted by Next Level, the North Lawrence gym that has signed a deal to open a new health club — called The Summit — in the multi-story building under construction at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The games are offering $600 in prizes to competitors, and there will be men, women and professional categories. There is no admission charge to attend the event. And, no, it is not too late for you to be a competitor. (It is never too late to get a hernia.) Scott Elliott, co-owner of Next Level Sports Performance, said registration is available up to the day of the event.
“In the past we have had people see what we’re doing, go home and get their shoes and sign up,” Elliott said. (How does that conversation go? “Ah, they’re flipping 400-pound tractor tires. Where are my tractor-flipping shoes, honey?”)
Elliott expects the event will run from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the pro division — which often consists of fitness trainers from area gyms — beginning about noon.
“It really is a neat spectator event,” Elliott said.
• As for the latest on Elliott’s plans to open a new health club at Ninth and New Hampshire, he said the project is on track to be open by mid-November. Work is progressing quickly on that seven-story building, which I hear has already pre-leased a significant number of its apartment units.