Archive for Saturday, April 27, 2013

Opinion: Lawrence unfriendly to new business? You bet!

April 27, 2013


I am always stunned when I hear city or planning commissioners defensively arguing that Lawrence is not unfriendly to new business. Of course it is!

But that was not always the case. I grew up in the home of a Lawrence city councilman who served as city commissioner after the form of government changed. He and other elected city officials realized that Lawrence had to increase its tax base and provide all types of jobs for its citizens. A few residents came to city hall to complain when Westvaco (now ICL) wished to locate its plant in North Lawrence. They were blunt: “We don’t want the lunch box trade in Lawrence.”

When I served on the Land Use Task Force of Horizon 2020, I heard the same complaint, only in politically correct language: “We want only high-paying, high-tech jobs in Lawrence.” I said then that it would be great if all workers qualified for high-paying, high-tech jobs, but they did not. Nor would there be enough of those types of jobs if everyone did qualify.

Fortunately, back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, our city leaders recognized that Westvaco would be a boon to Lawrence and approved building the plant. Under whatever name (Westvaco, FMC, Astaris. ICL) it operated, that industry and the people employed there have made Lawrence a far better place to live.

I cannot think of a single retail business or industry in recent years that has not faced a battle from Lawrence when it attempted to locate here. At best, they are urged to locate elsewhere in Lawrence or to make their stores smaller. Sadly, Menards is no exception. In my opinion, locating next to Home Depot makes perfect sense, both from Menards’ point of view and mine. I once interviewed Junior Brubeck, then owner of Lawrence’s Chrysler dealership, about why so many car dealers chose to locate in or near the Auto Plaza. “Competition makes us better,” Brubeck said. Menards is likely thinking along similar lines.

As a shopper, I rarely find everything I need at one store, making me grateful that Walmart and Target are in the same South Iowa neighborhood. When Home Depot doesn’t have all the items on my list, it would be nice to find it next door instead of driving to a hardware store miles away.

Think of the property and sales taxes generated by Menards that will be used by local governments to fund infrastructure, public safety and schools. Other cities that have welcomed the businesses and industries that Lawrence spurned — or did not even get a chance to spurn because of the city’s unfriendly-to-business reputation — are realizing those benefits. Think of 250 jobs that Menards will provide for Lawrence residents. My guess is that more than twice that many workers will apply for those 250 jobs.

As for building apartments on the site, is there anyone who does not recognize that the rental market is overbuilt? My husband and I were relieved several years ago to sell the rental duplex that we bought new and kept in pristine shape. We had no trouble renting it, but we saw the writing on the wall and realized the city was embarked on a path that would turn rental homes and duplexes in the center of Lawrence into empty shells.

When I was commissioned to write the Chamber of Commerce history, I was privileged to have the opportunity to research Lawrence’s economic development from 1878 to 1990. I learned the Lawrence that people cite as worthy of keeping today would not even exist if those people strongly advocating its preservation “as is” had been in charge of developing the city way back when.

Economist Peter Drucker said, “Long-range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.” We are indeed fortunate that those long-ago city leaders made the right decisions.

— Marsha Goff is an author, editor, blogger and community volunteer.


saraj 5 years ago

A thoughtful, well-written and very accurate piece.

workinghard 5 years ago

They want people to live here, just don't want them to work here.

Sue McDaniel 5 years ago

You bet it is very true! FMC was an excellent place to work, paid very well and cared about it's employees. Now I see almost all of my neighbors commuting to make a decent wage. With the price of gas, given a chance to sell, that will dry up too. While not a Menard's fan, Lowe's still makes me angry!!! And of course the mall we could not have, but now have the elements of but spred out all over south Lawrence.

smileydog 5 years ago

OMG! How dare someone question our dear leaders? Wake up folks of our local communes, a letter to the editor write in campaign is in order to discredit and harrass this lady. Then, crowd the City Commission meetings with our far-out and wacky thoughts. Citizen pony-tailed gray hairs unite!

Let's make Charlie proud.......Charles Manson, of course.

anotherview 5 years ago

I am trying to follow your logic. In one place you think the city should step out of the way when it comes to new businesses coming to Lawrence and in another example, concerning apartments, you seem to imply that the city should do more to stop new apartments from being built in Lawrence. Is it OK to have "empty shells" in retail stores, but not OK to have "empty shells" in rental housing?

New2KU 5 years ago

To late. Already have empty shells of retail stores. Been watching for years of stores closing and people shopping elsewhere. People choose to shop where they want, and now they are shopping in Topeka and KC.

princessblea 5 years ago

People are welcome to live here, hence the million apartment complexes...but not many can work or shop here. Most I talk to leave to do both. So what happens when they pull up roots with gas increases? Larger industry promotes more jobs which promotes more shopping...maybe I am wrong. But choices are just nice.

FlintlockRifle 5 years ago

Great and dead on about most of our city leaders, on new businesses coming to Lawrence no matter what iit might be, Miss Henry. I for one worked at FMC for many years, and it is a great place to make a real good wage and work. I also worked with your son, great computer skills. One of the plant managers (Joel Jacobs) was just a supper manager with great people skills and just about all the local business new who he was, he was involved in many activities in town, great PR person ,

tomatogrower 5 years ago

The late 40's and 50's? Isn't that when the mess on 23rd street was created?
The letter writer is clearly involved with the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is made up of business owners around town. What incentive do they have in attracting good paying jobs to the Lawrence? They might have to pay more to keep their good employees. They might have to compete for employees by offering benefits. That's why they love promoting retail. Retail is not a threat, and they don't have to compete for employees. Get a clue!!!

bearded_gnome 5 years ago

good article Ms. Goff, and right on in all its points. indeed, there's always a pressure to try to make things unreasonably smaller to the point they can't succeed.

bearded_gnome 5 years ago

uh Tomatothrower, your comment totally misses the point of the article above in its attempt at a smear with some kind of tie to the chanber of commerce.

if our chamber of commerce had more influence, this article wouldn't have to be written.

Marsha Goff 5 years ago


Answers for you:

No, 23rd Street took decades to develop as it is. I believe it was pretty much rural in the late '40s. When LHS was opened in the mid-50s, some streets in the area weren't even graveled.

I was once a Chamber member, but have not been for many years and I was not a member when I was commissioned to write the Chamber history. My approach to history is simple: I do not believe in "revisionist history." I tell what happened and allow the chips to fall where they may. I do not attempt to clean up history nor do I try to judge it by today's standards.

Questions for you:

Do you know that Hallmark with its well-paying jobs would not be here without the Chamber? Lone Star likely would not have been built by the CCC without the Chamber? Do you know that the Chamber engineered cleanup and help for those whose homes were flooded during the 1951 Flood? Do you know about the Chamber's involvement in pushing for the building of Allen Fieldhouse? Do you know of the Chamber's successful efforts to calm the troubled waters of the 1970s?

If you want to know the answers to these questions and more, you can find them in the Chamber history at the library. You might be surprised at what you discover. --MHG

Richard Heckler 5 years ago

Lawrence with 250,000 people will be quite different. Can we say never ending traffic congestion? Brown air to breathe.

With expanded dumb growth comes more crime and higher cost of living. Nobody moves to Lawrence hoping it will grow into what they left behind. The only SOLID industry Lawrence has failed to develop is the higher education industry. Lawrence is 25 years behind in bringing on on Vo-Tech campus. Students are good money for Lawrence.

This as always is about selling real estate not improving the quality of life or making sensible market decisions. Lawrence,Kansas is a small town with only so many retail dollars available simple as that just like any other market.

Saturated markets are business unfriendly.

The economy sucks because of the GOP in Washington D.C. and the GOP in Kansas. And those two GOP sponsored home loan scams were not too bright as millions upon millions upon millions of unemployed document.

People have moved to Lawrence for years knowing there are not shopping centers on every corner which is quite pleasing frankly. Who needs that? People also moved here realizing if what cannot be found in Lawrence can be found in KCMO/JOCO metro which is fine and dandy. Lawrence can never replace the KCMO metro.

The writer has lived here for decades without a shopping center on every corner and has yet to move. And new people continue to move in.

The message ; Quit thinking Lawrence can be the KCMO/JOCO metro and get real. The only SOLID industry Lawrence has failed to develop is the education industry. Retail is not a solid industry especially when developed under the illusion Lawrence can be the KCMO metro.

Menard's wants to move in next door believing Menard's can put Home Depot out of business. That is business unfriendly. Instead why doesn't Menard's embark on a buy out offer thus preventing a large empty shell that no longer employs or no longer generates sales tax dollars.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 12 months ago

Thanks for the history MHG.

I think TG and Merrill forget that the Chamber is a collection of business owners who have often run successful businesses, met payrolls, operated in this economy, and made it all work!

"dumb growth" is a silly term, and displays an amazing negativity towards capitalism. that capitalism that has raised the standard of living for all, and pad one heckuva lot of taxes in this country.

again, thanks for your commentary.

thelonious 4 years, 12 months ago

I call BS on this "opinion" piece - it actually calls BS on itself - see excerpt below:

"As for building apartments on the site, is there anyone who does not recognize that the rental market is overbuilt?"

So, if you can recognize when apartments are overbuilt (mostly when it hits YOU in the pocketbook), how is it that you can't recognize when retail is overbuilt (

But hey, what do I know - I think Thelonious Monk was a genius! :-)

Charlie Bannister 4 years, 12 months ago

Ms. Goff you are the type of leader this community needs. I have said for the past 20 years that I sorely wish I could get a decent paying blue collar job in Lawrence without having to commute to Topeka every day. As it stands, I have worn out a few cars and spewed quite a bit of emissions out the tail pipe to get to a job that pays me a living wage so that I can actually have a decent type of life. I refuse to live in the arm pit of Topeka, so the commuting will probably continue until I retire. I am in my mid 50's now and probably could not get anyone to hire me anyway. Again, thank you for affirming my long held beliefs. Good answer to tomatogrower also. LOL!!

del888 4 years, 12 months ago

Why would you locate a home improvement store next to another home improvement store?? Answer: because that's where the customer are.

deec 4 years, 12 months ago

if Lawrence is so business-unfriendly, why did dozens of new stores and restaurants open in the last 20-30 years?

The blue-collar jobs mostly left town and moved to Asia or Latin America after the tax incentives...ran out.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.