Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Local leaders dissect the Lawrence economy’s challenges and opportunities

July 14, 2013


It was just one ranking, but it sure rankled.

When The Milken Institute recently released its list of the top-performing small metro economies in the country, Lawrence ranked second to last out of 179 metro areas.

Among leaders in the community, the ranking produced one of two types of grumbling: What the heck does The Milken Institute know? Or: What the heck has gone wrong? Traditionally, Lawrence has tended to rank near the top of lists of local economic health.

But there have been other signs besides a single disappointing ranking. Federal data released in April that showed that Lawrence’s gross domestic product — the broad measure of the local economy — was shrinking by about 1.7 percent, while the average U.S. metro area was growing by about 1.6 percent. More recently, Census numbers showed that in 2011 — the most recent data available — Douglas County had fewer businesses and fewer private sector employees than it did in 2000.

Of course, not many communities are doing as well economically as they were before the Great Recession. So it's no surprise that Lawrence isn’t. But it does create a question: Has Lawrence fallen harder than other communities?

We asked a cross-section of Lawrence leaders about the local economy: Has the once-vibrant Lawrence economy lost a step? We asked people with strong ties to the growth and development industry in Lawrence. We asked residents who have a history of lobbying for progressive policies and changes to the city’s current economic development policies. And we asked people who aren’t strongly affiliated with either group, but are engaged in the local leadership scene.

Reasons for Optimism?

In six months or so, this question of whether Lawrence has lost a step may be moot. Several people point to the proverbial greenshoots in the economy: Retail sales were strong in 2012; home sales and home construction numbers are rebounding; construction of the final leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway is set to begin later this year; the Rock Chalk Park development is spurring new activity in northwest Lawrence; and work is underway to convert the former Farmland fertilizer plant into a business park. Even some other lists have been kind to us. Lawrence in the past month was ranked the sixth-best venture capital market per capita in the country.

(A quick note: All of the individuals were speaking on behalf of themselves and not delivering official positions for their organizations. A few asked us to note that.)

Here's what they told us:

Doug Gaumer, President, Intrust Bank

“It is hard to argue with the numbers,” Gaumer said. “I don’t know if we have lost a step, but I think there is a general acknowledgment that we have become complacent.

“We had such a good run in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Maybe we needed to slow down, but the complacency hurt us. Once you lose that momentum, it is hard to regain it.”

Gaumer said a lack of “shovel-ready” sites has hampered Lawrence’s ability to attract new employers, and that the community still had too much disagreement on the correct use of incentives to attract economic development projects to town. He said local blogs and other public comments about growth, at times, also have been counterproductive to improving the Lawrence economy.

“At times there has been an aura of negativity about growth that hurts us, but I think all those things are in the process of being addressed.”

Greg Williams, President and CEO, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce

“We have not performed as a market anywhere near our level of capability for the last 10 years,” said Williams, who was hired by the chamber in April 2012. “That is very clear in virtually all the numbers that we have access to.”

But Williams said he is most encouraged by the news he is hearing from architects, engineers and other professionals who generally are among the first to see the wave of new development that is to come.

“The economic indicators are all rearview mirror stuff that predates me,” Williams said. “But the front windshield indicators are showing some real signs of life.”

Doug Brown, Commercial real estate agent

“I think for a number of years we were running at a pretty fast pace,” Brown said. “Definitely from the early ‘90s to the mid-2000s, maybe 2003 or 2004 was our peak. Then I think there was a knee-jerk reaction that we somehow were growing too fast.

“There were some folks at City Hall that tried to put the brakes on in a number of ways. I certainly wouldn’t point any fingers, but I think we said no more than we said yes to growth for five to six years. When you say no enough, people start believing that you don’t want growth.

“I think in some ways we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. We had to restart. I think we have restarted, and that is a good sign. I think there are some good things on the horizon.”

John McGrew, Residential real estate developer

“You are talking to the guy who has rose-colored glasses all the time,” McGrew said. “But they were kind of smokey from 2006 to last year. But now I think Lawrence’s future is as bright as ever. We’re just planting the seed right now. You don’t pick the crop until you have given it a little time to mature.”

McGrew said the Rock Chalk Park development has made him optimistic because of the amount of cooperation it demonstrated between the public and private sectors. He also said the redevelopment of the Farmland industrial-park property and the construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway make new industrial development more likely in Lawrence than it's been in years.

But he said an attitude change also has taken place among community leadership.

“For a while, some people decided that Lawrence was so good we didn’t have to roll out the red carpet,” McGrew said. “We found out that wasn’t the case. But we’re opening our arms again.”

Laura Routh, Chair, Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods

“I think Lawrence has lost a step, or two,” Routh said. “Part of it may be related to the larger politics of Kansas. I think many people are put off by the extreme positions of the current state administration, and that likely makes it harder to recruit investment capital, companies and skilled workers.

“I also think local political conditions favor a select few developers and firms. It doesn’t seem to me that we have true free market competition for many sectors in this town. When the city hands out public incentives that don’t really benefit the public, it is taxpayers who suffer.”

Leslie Soden, East Lawrence neighborhood advocate, member of Joint Economic Development Council, owner of pet care business

“We show up as one of the smartest cities in America in many rankings, but we haven’t leveraged that enough,” Soden said. “We shouldn’t still be targeting industries that don’t leverage our strengths. Innovation is where the strength of this nation lies, and it is where the strength of this county is too.”

Soden said the various public- and private-sector entities in the county haven’t done enough to work together to promote economic development. She said she hopes the newly formed Joint Economic Development Council, of which she is a member, will address that issue, but she said the results haven’t yet materialized.

“The strength of that group ought to be that we have the city, the county, Eudora, Baldwin, the business community, the university all sitting around one table,” she said. “That’s the place where we need to be brainstorming and collaborating.

“We haven’t had enough coordination over the years. That has been a huge factor.”

Boog Highberger, Attorney, former Lawrence mayor

“I can’t argue with those statistics,” Highberger said. “But I’m not surprised that we have had setbacks, given that our major industry (Kansas University) has had serious cutbacks. The cutbacks at the state level have had to have serious trickle-down impacts on the local economy.”

Highberger, who was on the City Commission when some developers believe the city began seeking a slowdown in growth, said he doesn’t buy the notion that Lawrence is unfriendly to business or that it had become complacent.

Instead, Highberger said some of Lawrence’s sharp dropoff could be attributed to the city’s heavy reliance on the residential construction industry.

“Housing construction at one point was a very large part of our economy,” Highberger said. “That didn’t prove to be sustainable. I’m not sure we’ll see those days again.”

Tim Caboni, Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, Kansas University

“We know that 2008 was a significant dip for the economy,” Caboni said. “We also know there is a recovery going on, but it is not as steep or as fast as anyone would like.”

Caboni said Lawrence, however, remains well positioned for the future. He said a joint venture to build a new bioscience and technology incubator on KU’s West Campus has been a “remarkable success story.” The first phase of the high-tech center is filled, and work is underway on a second phase, as larger numbers of companies express an interest in being either on or very near the university’s campus.

“Companies want to be where ideas are created and innovation is fostered,” Caboni said.

Caboni said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has made it a priority to make the university a better partner with the business community and local governments.

“We are at a zenith in the relationship between City Hall, the chamber of commerce, Douglas County and the University of Kansas,” Caboni said. “We are linked arm and arm to do what is in the best interest of Lawrence and Douglas County.”

Gene Meyer, President and CEO, Lawrence Memorial Hospital

“I think we have been concerned for years about the number of people who live here and have to leave Lawrence for employment,” Meyer said. “That creates a lot of additional pressures.”

Meyer said instability in some key local leadership positions and the lack of a consistent longterm message for the community also have created challenges.

“We have had instability in chamber leadership,” Meyer said of the string of chamber presidents that have come through the organization in recent years. “We also have had a dichotomy in the focus on the city commission as it relates to growth or no growth. There has not been a consistent, long-term message either way.

“Not that leadership can change attitudes, but it does provide that stability when people are looking at us nationally.”

Chuck Magerl, President, Free State Brewing Co.

“I’m immensely proud of Lawrence and proud of the heritage of our community, but at the same time, I’m concerned about the indicators that suggest perhaps our smugness and complacency has taken a toll on the vibrancy of our community,” Magerl said.

Magerl said he thinks some of the long-held notions about the strength and durability that KU provides to the local economy have come into question, and he said the increasing vitality of Kansas City has made the metro area a stronger competitor for Lawrence residents.

“Kansas City has become a huge magnet in the region,” Magerl said.

At the same time, Magerl said Lawrence may have been caught resting on its laurels.

“Lawrence still has so much going for it,” Magerl said. “It has a tight-knit sense of community, and it gives you a sophisticated experience in a small setting. But there can be an attitude in Lawrence that we’re cool and we’re always going to be the place where people want to be. It is not a given that it plays out that way. We have to prove that we’re worthy.”


Brian Hall 4 years, 11 months ago

They weren't required to. They were asked how did the Lawrence economy falter and when and why, not "What would you do to fix it." Also, none are in a position to change anything without going to the city commission. They should be the ones giving answers on how to fix it.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Leslie Soden, Chuck Magerl and Laura Routh provided the most insightful comments to this very large question.

The others from the business community are still relaying the same old concepts and comments.

What Lawrence had was a housing market with inflated values living off of questionable financing tactics and most of that housing has lost value in a big way. Not impressive management.

KU for many decades could sustain the Lawrence economy with ease. Those days are gone. KU cannot sustain an over loaded bedroom community with an over extended retail market. Tighter markets produce more long term stability and economic growth. Over extended markets = wreckanomics.

"the increasing vitality of Kansas City has made the metro area a stronger competitor for Lawrence residents. Kansas City has become a huge magnet in the region,” Magerl said. I agree. At the same time Lawrence cannot be KCMO metro in so many respects. Believing that Lawrence can become this monster retail unit is absurd. Stealing that from KCMO metro is a ludicrous thought.

joes_donuts 4 years, 11 months ago

Laura Routh is only proving why nobody takes LAN seriously anymore. I cannot think of one single project LAN has been for, besides the Pouler building in East Lawrence (which is the most TAX Subsidized project ever done in Lawrence).

Pot meet kettle...

joes_donuts 4 years, 11 months ago


Site some facts if it is nonsense. You see to have a cut and paste for everything, but not my statement.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

A developer influenced local government lacks discipline, fiscally responsible managed growth and produces a high cost of living relative to taxes,user fees and unchecked sprawling growth.

local profiteers are draining OUR pocketbooks and raising OUR taxes. We've subsidized local profiteers at such a basic level for so long, that many people believe Lawrence will die if we don't. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of local profiteers driving development.

How do we subsidize local profiteers?

--- pick up the cost of more criminal activity as Lawrence grows.

--- building new and wider roads such as the SLT.

--- building schools on the fringe.

--- extending sewer and water lines to not necessary development.

--- extending emergency services to the fringe.

--- direct pay-outs to developers.

--- tax incentives that are not affordable

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 11 months ago

I am not one bit surprised by this revelation. In a community where a disgustingly small nember of people participate in local elections, the quality of local government is greatly degreaded by the allowing of a miniscule small group of individuals who vote for these ignorant, clueless,adgendaed and incompetant "city commissioners". The very makeup and system of government for a community that wants to regard itself as forward looking, a comission made up of an ":at large" commisioners who really are not interested in the welfare of the community "at large", what would you expect??

Look around....Count all the empty buildings on 23rd street alone. Look for the empty businesses near the "beautiful downtown Lawrence" area. Look for businesses that are not "Joe College" enterprises. Look at the incredible barriers that are erected by the clueless roundabout commission to most new busineses that want to locate in Lawrence.

Look at the stores that used to be K-Mart and Sears.

Why is anyone surprised???????

Catalano 4 years, 11 months ago

They exist purely so you will have something to whine about. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You can't run, you can't hide from Wilby!

You can't run, you can't hide from Wilby! by Catalano

sad4now 4 years, 11 months ago

Our so called city leaders do a very poor job to promote jobs and job growth in Lawrence. The city of Lawrence is where I live but I have to drive to other surrounding cities to make a decent living...decent families do not stand a chance in Lawrence and none of our so called leaders seem to care. With the city goverment we have in Lawrence is ANYONE surprised that no major companies Ever come to sad...beautiful city....sorry leaders.

Armstrong 4 years, 11 months ago

I find it stunning and ironic that those frequent posters who cry daily about "evil business" are also crying about a lack of jobs. Maybe the economic development problems Lawrence faces are not rooted in the people at the top making poor decisions but the backwards mentality of those who populate it.

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

It's not business. It's the type of business. The objection is to building up big box retail with a bunch of low-wage part,-time jobs. I'm sure your next statement is going to be about how jobs are jobs, but you and I know that isn't really true. There isn't a shortage of that sort of job in this town.

What we lack are full time jobs with benefits. Most of the BS about Lawrence being "business unfriendly" centers around our willingness or unwillingness to make zoning exceptions and handout corporate welfare tax giveaways to big box developers.

riverdrifter 4 years, 11 months ago

Exactly. $9/hr crap jobs at Menards account for NOthing.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

You are all smart and stuff, so you probably work as a Physicist at KU, but there are people that are less intelligent and less educated than you. A big box job is a steady paycheck for them.

You are too good for those jobs, but some people aren't. You should be smart enough to know that. Or maybe you are smart enough and just hate capitalism and corporations enough to prefer hungry neighbors.

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm smart and stuff, which is why I know that a part time job with no benefits and pay so low that the worker will still qualify for public assistance is too good for anyone who is capable of independent living and old enough to buy a beer after work (if they could afford it on those wages). Besides, as I repeat myself for the umpteenth time, we already have plenty of retail jobs in this city!

It's simply not in our interest as a city to either allow multiple zoning exceptions or give taxpayer incentives for that sort of development. If your excuse is jobs, save it for the factories or warehouses that want to build.

bevy 4 years, 11 months ago

Not just the lack of decent-paying jobs, but also an extremely inflated housing market. It was only a generation ago that most people working blue-collar jobs could afford to buy a home in the town where they worked. Not so any longer. If you work blue-collar, you pay inflated rent. If you work white-collar, you may be able to buy here, but you have to drive an hour to KC to make enough money to pay for your house.

Liberty275 4 years, 11 months ago

I'd like it to be known that when I say "evil corporations" I am being sarcastic.

Mark Kostner 4 years, 11 months ago

I don't live in Lawrence and haven't tried to move there or get a job, but the place is constantly growing, especially compared to the rest of Kansas. If the place was last in the nation economically it would have an abandoned downtown, empty lots everywhere, and a bunch of rusting industrial hulks . Lawrence is probably headed for 100,000 plus population and new businesses are popping up. I don't think the popular will exists for it to become a major city, becoming the Kansas City-Lawrence metro area but a healthy small college city.

Lisa Medsker 4 years, 11 months ago

Downtown HAS been pretty much abandoned by everything except bars and kitschy "souvenir"-type places. Very few businesses are left that were here when I came in 2006. We had an economy that would support family, locally owned business. Now, with the addition of a second Wal Mart, and a second CVS, as well as various other HUGE national "box stores", we've tanked. The whole feel of the city is different.

Steve Jacob 4 years, 11 months ago

KU was mentioned, and that a good point. KU enrollment has not grown, less state money coming in, resulting in loss of dozens of non-essential workers has hurt our GNP.

And I think it hard for the city to commission to give away money to entice business when so much money is going out to a library, police station, ect. The Rock Chalk Park will be fine in time, but no hotels near it will be an issue.

Stop_the_Madness 4 years, 11 months ago

I enjoyed living in Lawrence for 12 years. When I retired I was fortunate to move to a more exciting place with a great economy. Lawrence is good if you like easy living and very little change until you open you real estate tax bill.

Catalano 4 years, 11 months ago

Oh please share where. I'm looking for a better place, too.

John Sickels 4 years, 11 months ago

I've been to Sun City. Unlivable hellhole if you like anything GREEN and living that doesn't require thousands of gallons of water.

Lawrence has some problems but the Phoenix area will be abandoned within 100 years when the water runs out.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

The underlying methodology of the study was growth.

So, all that it means is that Lawrence isn't growing fast. Whether or not that's desirable or not is another question.

At the very least, we should question the assumption that fast growth is always desirable.

patkindle 4 years, 11 months ago

except for ku, Lawrence does not offer a lot. or I guess you could say, .............. other communities offer a lot more, Lawrence thinks so much of them selves that most out of towners are repulsed by them, and of course this doesn't matter because the folks in Lawrence prefer it that way.................... downtown has limited itself of bars and places to eat, and legitimate shops in limited in number. the rest of the town, except for ku is the same as any other so no wonder the better than you attitude puts Lawrence at the bottom of the pile Lawrence is great if you are homeless, or have ties to ku, other wise not so much

wtfusa 4 years, 11 months ago

everyone here is acting like the sky is falling for Lawrence, trust me it's not. I think Lawrence is going to need to look at how it is going to best relate itself to Johnson county and KCMO, but the notion that we are in trouble is nonsense. Mass Street is thriving and expanding in a reasonable way, and that is an asset that few areas of the country can boast.

I'd say one of the biggest challenges for Lawrence is going to be how it can pick up some of the heavylifting KU does. KU is and is going to be in an arms race against its cultural peer universities for the next 10 years. KU is building up for a Big Ten conference invite that will allow the academic side of University to share resources will all Big Ten schools plus Johns Hopkins and U of Chicago. New dorms, new business school, new engineering building, new Jayhawk Blvd, new addition to AFH, RCPark. That is a lot of construction, and it tells me something is up. The Chancellor's office probably sees the political climate in the state continuing to senselessly attack education spending. KU has to help itself for 10 years, and so Lawrence needs to be aware of that factor.

blindrabbit 4 years, 11 months ago

Not to gripe too much, but here are some of the factors that have led to the "Lawrence" situation: 1. Poor form of city government, too little responsibility, too unprofessional leadership of elected officials. 2. Too much influence by the Country Club Set, especially an ineffective Chamber 3. Too much being part of Kansas, a state that is held in ridicule throughout USA. 4. Too much pandering to Real Estate, Builder, Banking and Insurance industries. 5. Too willing to extend City limits without rehabilitating existing infill 6. Too much "tied" to KU, a school that has it's own major set of problems. 7. Too willing to blame being too close to KC and Topeka as excuses for poor performance. 8. Too much factionalism between different parts of the city, especially East and North 9. Too willing to ignore City's own master plan for development and growth. 10.The 30 year haggling over the SLT has been a killer to business. 11.Likewise, the long term issue with the homeless and pandering has scared off many. 12. Too high real estate pricing, although some correction during last few years. 13. Too much distinction between "haves" and "have nots". 14. Being a bedroom community, high wages in Topeka and KC and low in Lawrence. 15. Poor cooperation between City, DLI, Business Development and Tourism groups. 16. On and on!

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree. We're going to have to figure out a way to attract that sort of job here. If you want to find jobs for university graduates, you're going to have to do better than Menards.

Personally I recommend focusing on startups instead of trying for big players. If you can get kids to stay after they graduate and start a business, they're more likely to stay as it grows. If you give out tax incentives like candy to big businesses, they'll just leave when someone else gives them a better offer.

Sparko 4 years, 11 months ago

Kansas is a deep red, regressive area. Lawrence does not exist in a vacuum. Kansas has practically killed the Middle Class; no Middle Class=poor growth and opportunity. The shills on here would say otherwise, but lose the Brownbacks and other dullards, and this problem goes away.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

There are plenty of former Lawrence people living in KCMO metro who simply cannot afford Lawrence anymore. Not only can they not make enough money housing is wayyyy to expensive. So I hear. Then again KCMO metro has a lot of cultural activity and KKFI -FM.

Always Low Wages is not an attractive feature for Lawrence,Kansas.

KCMO is expanding in the Arts as well. UMKC is expecting to relocate their Music and Dance Conservatory Department into the "Crossroads " art district. The Kansas City Ballet rehabilitated a former coal fired plant and WOW what a beautiful structure. That building will be around for another few hundred years. With the Kauffman Performing Arts Center sitting between both so to speak.

GUMnNUTS 4 years, 11 months ago

Lawrence has at least 6 McDonalds for people needing work.

John Sickels 4 years, 11 months ago

It's a combination of things.

The state is defunding KU and cutting back on higher education. That has a ripple effect in a city devoted to higher education.

While I'm not a big fan of tax abatement, the city IS too resistant to retail growth. If a store wants to come here, let them come. Jobs are jobs. YES we want higher-end jobs. But that doesn't mean we don't need lower-end jobs too.

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

Some of these student jobs are useful, sure, but we don't actually need more of them in town right now. If you want more retail, encouraging smaller, local retail will make sure that the owner/manager to underpaid employee ratio is lower. The profits are more likely to stay in town, too.

Now if some big box place wants to come into town and build using existing zoning ordinances and without any tax abatement? More power to them. If you want to argue that whatever widget store has an amazing thing that people will travel from out of town to buy, you can try that approach. Just don't use the excuse that they're "creating jobs" unless they want to start paying living wages.

geekin_topekan 4 years, 11 months ago

Clearly, Jack in the Box is the panacea we seek. (Learned that word from the Honorable Randy McGrath)

kochmoney 4 years, 11 months ago

I hear their burgers are killer. Wait - not anymore. Now they cook them all the way through.

William Ed 4 years, 11 months ago

The Journal World Staff should be commended for their Sunday Story and series of interviews on why Lawrence was number 179 on the Miliken list of top performing small metros. Should we pat ourselves on the back because we weren’t number 180?

It was interesting that the recurrent theme expressed by several of the individuals offering comments, is that our fair city has been resting on it’s past laurels for way too long. This should be nothing new as there are many of us who have been trying to convince anyone who would listen that unless we change our ways we will continue in a downward spiral. While we have only a 1.7% decrease, we in FACT have a 3.3% decrease. The average community is moving forward at a 1.6% pace while we are going backwards.

One of the interviewees alluded to the fact that we are lacking a plan. That is a severe problem. If you don’t know where you are going you will probably get there. Does that sound familiar?

In all of the comments, the MOST disturbing was the comment by Tim Caboni, that there is now a coming together of key segments of the community to work together. What was glaringly missing is the fact that new families are not going to move to Lawrence if there is not a good school system. Not one of the interviewees even alluded to this problem. Why isn’t the school system a part of the group that is leading the community forward. All one has to do is look at the state school assessments to realize that USD 497 is performing in an average way and that one of our high schools doesn’t even come up to state standards. This is occurring even though the University in our town has an outstanding educational department. It certainly causes any prospective applicants for a job in Lawrence to scratch their head. One of the greatest impacts on our community would be strong interaction between the University and the School District which would lead to Lawrence having the best schools in the state. People want good schools and we could certainly have them.

With a very low unemployment rate in Douglas County, their must not be many people who want to work here.

While many of the interviewees said things are really getting better, one must wonder if they could have said anything else. We’ll have to see. With taxes going up to cover all sorts of wonderful things: rec. center, new schools, police facility, water treatment, and infrastructure, will the new housing construction be utilized.

Maybe we need some bus trips to Detroit to see what happens when their is a total lack of planning and commitment to progress. They have their baseball and football teams, and we have a basketball team, but the sports franchises didn’t keep Detroit from its demise.

Catalano 4 years, 11 months ago

What are the companies that moved to Olathe?

Patricia Davis 4 years, 11 months ago

Lawrence has believed its own press for far too long. We should have had a vo-tech decades ago, but Lawrence didn't want to think of itself as a vo-tech kind of town. We should have had at least one other high school decades ago, but we didn't want to give up our sports domination. We should have had comprehensive community planning that resulted in a safe, enjoyable and walkable community. We should have invested in innovation jobs decades ago in steady of settling for jobs that pay less than liveable wage and for which we give precious government tax breaks. We should have a different form of city government, but we are too lazy to wrestle that away from the powers that be.

Lawrence now lacks the vision, the energy and the synergy to make itself wake up. I firmly disagree with John McGrew that Rock Chalk Park signifies good things for our community's future. It's just another example of bad planning and good old boys calling the shots and taxing us for something that will benefit very few of us.

blindrabbit 4 years, 11 months ago

In some ways the slowdown has been good for Lawrence; giving the City a chance to see it's own foibles. Whether Lawrence is cognizant enough to see the writing or recognize what needs to be to correct the problems is another matter. The real estate land grab that inspired the overbuilt condition has led to many builders withering on the vine, unfortunate for them but probably good for the long term condition. The "Smart Growth" term is a bit overused and "too fashionable" but by applying those concepts, maybe we can get the horse back in front of the runaway cart.

HootyWho 4 years, 11 months ago

we need jobs that pay better than 9 an hour, you can't raise a family on that,,believe me, i've struggled to do that for most of my adult life,

blindrabbit 4 years, 11 months ago

Sad thing about this story and the contributions of the bloggers is that many of the corrective issues are evident in the comments. The City and it's band of supporters (less than 20% of the registered voters) is either happy contentment, ignorance, greed, or too selfish to apply any corrective concepts.

tbecs 4 years, 11 months ago

It amazes me that some of you still live here...or live in Kansas for that matter. If it is "so horrible" go find a better place to live. I agree that we do not have enough "higher paying" jobs in Lawrence. I also think that a job is a job. If you barely graduated from high school or do not possess a college degree (or for that matter do not possess a post-graduate degree) you can not expect to earn that much money, unless you are trained in a specific skill. If you do not work for the same company for several years, you cannot expect to receive the highest wage. it blows my mind when I hear people complain about not earning enough money but they have done absolutely nothing to create a skill set that would be attractive to a higher income position. Just like you don't come out of college as a CEO...unless of course you decide to start your own business...and even then it typically takes awhile to start making money in a new venture. With that said, for some reason Lawrence businesses do not pay as well as in other areas of the state. That is something I do not understand. I can get the same job I have now and make almost $30,000 more in KC. Why don't I move or commute? Because I love this town. I love the schools for my children. I love the Downtown and the University and the culture and the parks and the community events and my list can go on and on. I am making a choice, so I am not going to complain about it on a newspaper website.

twss 4 years, 11 months ago

Gene Meyer seems to have a good read on the situation facing our fair city. I wonder if it is harder to sell our community to new businesses (and existing ones that want to expand) when the chamber CEO still has his Missouri license plate and doesn't have a Lawrence address.

roadwarrior 4 years, 11 months ago

when I moved here in 86 we had a very balanced and diversified economy. We had many companies that made things here and sold them nationally. They provided jobs, while not depending on local sales. That diversity has been narrowing - from: the economy, the digital revolution etc. but whats important is, we lost that strength. I wonder sometimes if local leaders realize it was that cocktail that made us a solid - vibrant - economically viable community where educated kids added color. Much of our "business" expansion chatter is now all about retail. Retail doesn't provide jobs with a diversified market place - it offers low wage jobs in exchange for our disposable income disguised as 'shopping options'. We have way more retail business than our disposable income can support as it is and yes, that will ultimately lead to empty real estate and Topeka like blight - Hand made signs over the doors of once promising strip malls. I'm seeing this blight occurring in many areas of OUR city right now. I'd rather have less retail, stronger retailers and a light manufacturing district as we once had. Funny, back then I could afford to pay more for things from local people who charged a bit more - now I HAVE to go to walmart. Thats all about income and economy - not the retailer.

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