Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2013

Simons’ Saturday Column: Lawrence has lost growth, economic momentum

May 4, 2013


Fairly soon, former and current local city officials should get the message Lawrence is not doing so well as a business center that generates jobs, retail sales and tax revenues and attracts new business and new residents.

We seem to be great at calling for, or demanding, expensive new buildings and programs, but one has to wonder how long the city can sustain this policy when the city is ranked as the nation’s second worst performing small metropolitan area relative to a number of economic measurements.

Apparently, the old adage of living within your means doesn’t apply to Lawrence. On the other hand, perhaps the thinking of past and recent city officials is that you must spend money to make money.

As reported in a Journal-World article earlier this week, a national economic study by the Milken Institute showed Lawrence ranked 178th out of 179 small metropolitan areas in its “Best Performing Cities Index.” In fact Lawrence dropped 79 spots from its 2011 ranking.

Nine different categories were used to determine the rankings: five-year job growth, one-year job growth, five-year wage growth, one-year wage growth, one-year job growth percentage, five-year high-tech GDP growth, one-year high-tech GDP growth, high-tech GDP as part of overall GDP and the concentration of high-tech companies.

According to those who collected and analyzed the data, there are two types of small metro areas that should do well in the study: communities benefiting from the nation’s new natural gas and oil exploration and communities with “high concentrations of public sector employees, especially in prominent universities.” Apparently Lawrence doesn’t even score well among small metro areas with “prominent universities.”

Complacency, complacency, complacency. Time and time again, this writer has said complacency is a deadly mindset because nothing is guaranteed. Lawrence, as well as Kansas University over the past 10 or so years, has been complacent, or lazy, thinking its continued growth and good fortune was almost a guarantee. We had all the necessary ingredients to be, and continue to be, an outstanding university community: good location, good natural resources, ample supplies of water, good transportation services, clean city government, good law enforcement, a major metropolitan area nearby with good airport facilities and large hospitals, and an aggressive, top-rated, state aided university. We had a record of visionary and hard-working city leaders who were interested in only one thing — how to help make Lawrence a better city — along with community-minded public school leaders and chancellors who were powerful and effective not only for the university but for the entire state.

We still have the good location, plenty of water (at least for now) and a good university, although it has slipped a bit in national rankings. In other categories, however, we have failed to keep pace and match, or exceed, what other peer cities have to offer.

But we do know how to spend money: an $18 million library expansion project, a new $40 million KU track and field complex, a new $25 million city recreation center, a new $64 million sewage treatment plant, $37 million for water and sewer projects, a requested $20 million to $40 million for police personnel and facility upgrades and several new multimillion-dollar buildings at KU.

Some of these projects could be classified as necessary, while others are nice but not vital no matter how much proponents claim they are necessary. Why try to save when city leaders are willing to spend big bucks?

For years, Lawrence was the model the rest of the state used to measure growth and economic vitality. National site selection teams scouting locations for new manufacturing plants or major retail operations considered a stop in Lawrence almost a “must.” Times changed, and Lawrence earned the reputation of being an extremely difficult city in which to build or locate new businesses.

Who is at fault? It’s easy to point figures, but there is no single guilty party. Rather, there are a number of factors. In no particular order or priority, consider these possibilities:

• The general public that obviously doesn’t attach much importance to whom they elect to the City Commission, County Commission or school board. Voter turnout in Lawrence is a disgrace, somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 percent. The adage, “You get what you pay for,” could be applied to our various government bodies. If the public doesn’t care, look what happens.

• City Hall.

• Next, what happened to the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce in recent years? It used to be an effective, visible and visionary organization, but something happened. It lost some good people and it lost its drive.

• Or could it be that so many people in Lawrence seem to be so proud of the diversity of opinions here and brag about Lawrence being so different than the rest of the state that it is extremely difficult to gain consensus on anything. How can there be a consensus on what the city does, when 80 percent of the residents don’t have enough interest or passion to vote? Lawrence may be paying a price for being so proud of being different and so liberal.

Not too many years ago, Lawrence enjoyed great positive momentum. There was enthusiasm, excitement and an optimistic attitude and environment. That momentum, once lost, is extremely difficult to reignite.

Leaders in Lawrence and the university “X” number of years ago would be shocked to think or be told that in only a relatively few years, the city and its school system would receive such poor grades relative to other Kansas communities or peer cities in other parts of the country,

How long will Lawrence residents allow this slide to continue?


JohnBrown 2 years ago

It's pretty much the results of republicanism over the last 12 years. George W punched a big hole in our economy...with the help of our current starting two unfunded wars...creating unnecessary tax breaks, and continuing to spend. W doubled our national debt. When O'Bama won the republicans vowed to never give him a break...lest the economy begin to grow and he get the credit in 2012. They are still doing that and now pushing for European austerity...based on defunct Laffer economics and an ignorant sequester that is just slash and burn economics.

There is no republican leadership...only fear-mongering. There is no "can do"attitude any more...just look at the republican state legislature.

Well, at least we can cling to our guns and our religion.


Steve Jacob 2 years ago

Bush has been gone for 4 years, and we had a Dem governor for 8 of the 12 years you talk about.

funkdog1 2 years ago

Yes, and Kansas fared far better under the "Dem" governor than it is now.

John Hamm 2 years ago

Brahahahahahaha Sorry, look at the numbers from Liberal led states and cities versus those of Republican led. When are you folks gonna start realizing your policies are the problem not GW. He's been out of the WH for years now and your replacement ain't done nothing but you still try to blame Bush. Jeeeeezzzzzzzzzzzzz

chootspa 2 years ago

If you look at those numbers, you find both liberal leaning and conservative leaning cities and states that are doing well. You'll find both cities that limit growth and cities that embrace it. I'm really not sure what you're trying to prove, other than that you believe what someone tells you without actually bothering to research it.

WilburM 2 years ago

As someone probably sympathetic to your overall political views, I'm skeptical. These are national policies and a national study. Lawrence really needs to look at itself. Overall, the University, city, and county nerd to scheme together. One bad example, building the Oread Hotel, which has no scale at all, rather than encouraging a serious hotel-conference center, that would have been a great asset for the University and the community. In any event, #178 is not good, by any accounting.

Scott Drummond 2 years ago

Lawrence, so far as I know, is not blessed with great natural oil and gas reserves. That means that the university was the main hope as a driver of economic gain. One party has insisted that public spending on things like public universities be cut to dole out tax breaks. The tax breaks appear not to have been beneficial to Lawrence. Indeed, how long will we continue this slide?

jafs 2 years ago

I question the notion that continued growth is a desirable or necessary thing.

In fact, a number of the things we're spending money on mentioned here are because of our growth.

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

I would not count those years of "boom town economics" aka inflated real estate values as successful momentum. Those years assisted in putting Lawrence in the low ratings because of the illusionary factor = dumb growth. Bedroom communities are tax dollar money holes.

Adding miles and miles and miles of new infrastructure is like adding miles and miles and miles of new taxes. In a bedroom community this is not expanding the tax base it is expanding our tax bills.

I would consider the rehabilitation of the local library a show of fiscal responsibility in that is one display of maintaing taxpayer owned property as we should.

Killig downtown has never been the best idea yet the city continues to allow developers that choice served on a silver platter. Why destroy a central business district?

Lawrence is a small town with big city tax dollar give aways and ready to hand out more for another downtown building project..... you would think that wealthy developers would know how to make money without being tax dollar moochers. Obviously they can't which places these folks in the high risk column. Yes more multi million dollar handouts are on the table.

City government pushing aside the measuring tools that define which so called "growth" projects are paying back the taxpayers and which are not = very risky business.

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Those economies based on Fracking are aka boom town economies. Boom town oil activity has left behind many many many ghost towns behind when the oil people left town.

North Dakota is is being subjected to environmental destruction and high risk economies. Which the taxpayers will be held responsible for cleaning up once the oil industry will claim zero responsibility. Northeast Kansas can live without that nonsense.

Charles L Bloss Jr 2 years ago

No wonder. They go out of their way to run off companies that want to have stores in Lawrence.

chootspa 2 years ago

First off, they've just said no to rezoning and tax breaks, and last I heard they were even reconsidering the zoning thing. That's not "running off."

Secondly, those companies would have zero impact on the things measured from this survey. They don't offer high tech jobs or increased wages, which is what this study emphasized.

chootspa 2 years ago

Haven't you answered your own questions here? "A high concentration of public employees" won't do much good when the state is cutting their funding, as they have been for the entire period measured during this study, which measures things like wage increases. City hall didn't do that. Lawrence didn't do that. Those durned dirty hippies that read your newspaper in spite of your Saturday opinion pieces didn't do it.

Do I think Lawrence could be doing more to attract high tech jobs to the area? Sure. But the state (and the governor you endorsed) sure isn't helping matters here.

Larrytown 2 years ago

I must say....I always get a kick out of reading Simons article.

First, he talks about complacency....then he complains about the city spending (big $ projects). It's like he's talking out of two sides of this mouth. Which is it Dolph? Do you even know what you stand for?

BTW...It's not city's INVESTING in the community. If you not interested in INVESTING (i.e. tax dollars) in the community, I suggest moving out to Western Kansas (where I was born and raised). You can then set there and watch your community dry up. That's the general reality in small-town Kansas and it saddens me.

Again, Lawrence is, without question, one of the better places to live in the State.

Stop_the_Madness 2 years ago

I think Lawrence should focus more on appealing to retirees. There seems to be a large following of KU grads who enjoyed living in Lawrence. If you can build good housing choices and control the tax and spend mentality the quality of life would be attractive for retirees.

chootspa 2 years ago

The "tax and spend mentality." Right, like how Brownback is pretty much forcing sales and property taxes to go up (things that really impact seniors) because he thinks income tax should go away (something that seniors pay less of). So there's the tax part. As far as the spending? Exactly how are we supposed to appeal to retirees if we don't intend to "build good housing choices" and support them with things like medical facilities, bus systems, paved roads, and police services?

I can pretty much translate your post as "Don't give me that socialized medicine, but keep your hands off my Medicare," now can't I?

yourworstnightmare 2 years ago

The biggest economic problem faced by Lawrence is that it is in Kansas.

Anyone with any sense, and the ability to leave, leave this place. No one with any sense and high-tech business ability would move to this place.

Tax cuts are not as important to high-tech business people as good schools, an educated labor force, and a pro-science environment.

Kansas politicians and "leaders" have been undermining these things for many years, and the chickens are coming home to roost.

Armstrong 2 years ago

Kind of interesting, the battle cry ideology Larryville locals are always most boisterous about is what's killing Larryville, diversity and acceptance. Two of the city's largest employers are non revenue producing, KU and local Govt. Meanwhile the city has done basically everything in it's power to keep industry away. That cocktail is a sure fire recipe to kill any economy.

Look at Larryville in relation to other college towns roughly the same size. Manhattan, Columbia, Springfield MO, what do they have in common? - 1) A diverse economy with an open door to industry. 2) Major highways and interstates running through the city. 3)Educated population. 4) Skilled workforce. I would say Larryville has 3 out of 4.

Look outside your bubble. You can't blame state government for Larryville's dismal performance. Larryville's problems are caused by the good ol boy network and Larryville's leadership or lack thereof. You are fooling yourself to blame the local economy on anything else.

Sunny Parker 2 years ago

Still blaming Bush...and now Brownie. People truly amaze me!

Patricia Davis 2 years ago

Lawrence lacks a solid vision of what it is and what it should become. We're viewed as the oasis in Kansas, but what have we done with that? We are not as green as we could have been decades ago. We did not plan bike paths in an organized way to encourage biking Lawrence. We have not planned retirement areas close to downtown to encourage walking and shopping. We do not have a coherent mass transportation plan. Who in their right minds would put a homeless shelter on the edge of town and then bus the homeless downtown so that they could continue to pan handle?

We have been for some strange reason wedded to Gould-Evans and the result is a collection of some really, really ugly buildings that already are not aging well. How could a historic community build the Lawrence Arts Center building? I swear my small town in Oklahoma built a better looking gym in 1970 than this mess. And don't even get me started on the library, or the my god how ugly can the monstrosity of a Rockchalk Park.

And then we enter the times of Brownbackistan and just how far and fast we have become incredibly stupid and making more stupid laws and begging for money to defend the laws they know are stupid. If I could afford to retire some where else, I would. Why in god's name would someone choose to retire in Lawrence?

chootspa 2 years ago

I actually like the arts center, but I agree on a lot of your points.

dd0031 2 years ago

The cause of the current downturn in Lawrence's fortunes is utterly obvious. Our most substantial employer and generator of economic activity is the University of Kansas. For more than a decade, the University of Kansas' budget and enrollment has been shrinking, bringing (a) fewer dollars into the city as a result of faculty and staff salaries, cutting faculty lines, replacing high-earning senior faculty with low-earning junior faculty and adjuncts, etc. and (b) bringing fewer students, and their spending to the city.

If the city wants to improve its fortunes, it needs to improve and to advocate for investment in the University of Kansas. Period.

kippcolorado 2 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

jafs 2 years ago

The whole focus of the study was on growth.

Underlying these sorts of things is the idea that continued growth is desirable. Since I'm not at all convinced that's the case, it is rather irrelevant to me that we're not continually growing.

I'd like to see some studies with different criteria.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

The population of Lawrence has doubled since I first moved here. With that, comes the need for more everything. More parks, more schools, more roads, more rec. centers, etc. We need more places to shop, more restaurants, more housing, and of course, more jobs.

Also, these people want more stuff than the people of years ago. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe not. But it's certainly true.

Doubling the population wanting more stuff can only be accomplished by growth. So while you're skeptical of growth, unless you can stem the tide of population growth and reverse the trend of people wanting more stuff, you're going against a trend that seems somewhat irreversible to me.

chootspa 2 years ago

If enough people want more stuff, the businesses that supply them should be wiling to build in properly zoned areas and without tax abatements.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

I would love to see some high tech jobs attracted here. These are the very types of jobs you frequently say are needed here. I'd support a zoning change if they wanted to build in an area not currently zoned for that. After all, zoning changes happen all the time. And should Austin or Silicon Valley offer incentives to go there, I'd offer the same to try to get them here. Again, tax abatements happen all the time.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with a business asking for a zoning change or for tax abatements. Just as there is nothing wrong with a city saying yes, because it's in that city's best interests or no because it's not in that city's best interests.

chootspa 2 years ago

There's nothing wrong with asking. There's also nothing wrong with saying no to a retail business that isn't providing those jobs.

I'd suport a high tech business wanting a zoning change or a tax abatement for a business wanting to move or expand and provide actual high tech jobs. You know, like AllofE requested not too long ago. I said as much at the time.

Olive Garden or Menards? Not so much.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

I would love to see great jobs move here. But in the absence of great jobs, jobs that are slightly less than great. In the absence of those, then jobs of just less greatness than that, and on and on, until we get the jobs with very little greatness. Which is still better than no job at all.

There's that old joke. Question: What's the difference between a recession and a depression? Answer: A recession is when your neighbor is unemployed. A depression is when you're unemployed.

While recessions aren't good, depressions are even worse. High paying jobs with good benefits would be great. But that doesn't change the fact that the lower paying jobs without benefits are still better than no jobs at all.

chootspa 2 years ago

As I said in the other thread, there are 210 openings for service industry jobs in Lawrence listed on right now, most of which are part time and for low wages. The not so great jobs are already here. Why do we need more of them when there are already plenty of openings? The unemployment rate in Lawrence is 5.2% The Kansas City rate is 6.6.

The problem isn't that we don't have jobs. The problem is that we drive to a different city to work at them, and all those high tech and high wage jobs in Kansas City and Topeka aren't going to magically relocate just because there's a Menards.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

There seems to be a certain disconnect here. I have people come into my business asking for a job all the time. How is it that they are not seeking out those 210 jobs that are available right now, as my business isn't hiring at the moment? That 5.2% unemployment rate represents a certain number of people, why isn't it reduce by 210 right now?

chootspa 2 years ago

I used to see people come in and ask for applications when I worked in the service industry, too, and it was considered to be a boom time with lower unemployment than what we have now. I did the same thing when I wanted a summer job or part time work while I was a student. I usually just walked into a place I wanted to work and asked if they were hiring. I didn't have to fill out too many applications before someone would call me back.

There are plenty of unfilled low wage and part time job openings, whether or not people are knocking on your door, so the argument that we should give a big box whatever they want because "jobs" is stupid.

Save the incentives for companies that actually provide full time jobs with benefits. Providing those incentives isn't free. The city still has to pay for the infrastructure supporting that business, including road use, police, sewage, etc, and if the low-wage job provides no benefits, the rest of us are stuck paying for that person's medical coverage, too.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

O.K., I see your point. That said, you seem to be admitting that there is an abundance of low paying jobs and an abundance of people with limited jobs skills. Yet they don't seem to connect with each other. I see the "help wanted" signs all over town and I see people with very limited skill sets not getting those jobs, apparently. Why? My position would be that their skills sets are so limited, that they simply can't find a way into those jobs, assuming they're even trying. And for those people you'd advocate a beginning wage substantially higher than it is now? Sorry, that I just don't see. But I will back any incentives to bring higher wage jobs to Lawrence, be it high tech, union jobs, factory jobs, etc.

chootspa 2 years ago

I'm not sure what you're trying to argue, but we're not talking about the federal minimum wage rate right now. Lawrence doesn't have the power to change it.

jafs 2 years ago

All of that may be true.

The question is whether or not it's desirable - studies like this one assume the desirability of growth and rank areas based on it. This editorial says we should be "attracting more residents and businesses". Why?

I don't believe continued growth is a positive thing, necessarily. It comes with positive and negative attributes. In a number of ways, Lawrence was a more pleasant place to live when I first moved here than it is now.

Also, people wouldn't generally move to an area if it doesn't have jobs, etc. so I'm not sure your timetable is accurate, that population growth comes first.

Personally, I'm doing my bit by not having children :-)

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

Let's assume a couple of things for just a moment. Let's assume that Lawrence was a better place when you moved here than it is now, however you choose to define that. What was it that attracted you here from Chicago or New York? Did the city make some effort to get you here, or was it an employer, the university, family? I would doubt that the city made much of an effort as it certainly made no effort when I moved here. And even if it did, I doubt it would play much of a part in the decision making process of either you or the other people who move here. It might ease the process a bit, but jobs, school, family, those sorts of things are going to attract people here. People are going to move here no matter what. Those that do move here will have children, see them grow, then grow older themselves. So we will see a growing population as well as changing demographics.

It all comes down to planning for a change that will happen no matter what. People have been leaving rural Kansas for the larger communities since before I was born and that trend will continue. More people go to college than when I was born and I certainly hope that trend continues. Lawrence will grow.

jafs 2 years ago


What does any of that have to do with the editorial, and with my comments?

Many people believe we should strive to continually grow, and in that effort, we should try to attract more people and more businesses.

Do you agree or disagree with that?

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

I believe growth will happen no matter what. We should plan for it.

jafs 2 years ago

That's different from the editorial, and from what many on here espouse.

How exactly would you plan for growth? What would that entail?

And, why do you believe it will happen no matter what? If there aren't jobs, etc. to attract people, they'll stop moving here, and possibly move away as well.

That's what's happened to a lot of small towns, isn't it?

In fact, the lack of growth is exactly what this editorial is complaining about, as well.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

When trying to predict future events, I look at history as a guide. I might think the planet might be best off with a human population of no more than 1 billion. However, if history is to be used as a guide, that goal will not be achieved anytime soon. I might say the same thing about the U.S. population and set the goal at one hundred million or less. Again, not going to happen. It would be wishful thinking to think that Lawrence will return to the less than 50,000 that was here when I first moved here as a young adult.

I googled ghost towns of Kansas and was surprised to find hundreds. Is that what you'd strive for? Or follow the lead of Detroit, where perfectly good homes are being bulldozed because there is no one to move into those homes and no one wants to move there because there are no jobs even if you did move into one of those homes?

At some time you need to try, as best as you can, to have an equal number of jobs as there are people wanting jobs. You need an equal amount of space in schools as students. An equal number of housing units as people wanting those units. Given Lawrence's history of population growth, I'd plan by encouraging job creation, housing creation, school growth, park expansion, roads, infrastructure, etc. at rates comparable to that population growth.

In addition to that, Jafs, and I know this is something you don't like to consider, but I'd realize we don't live in a vacuum. Our actions have consequences just as surely as our lack of actions will have. Doing nothing will have consequences that are much worse, in my opinion, than doing something. If you don't believe me, ask the residents of those hundreds of ghost towns I mentioned. For them, their actions or lack thereof, led to negative growth.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

"At some time you need to try, as best as you can, to have an equal number of jobs as there are people wanting jobs."

Is that a call for a centralized, Soviet-style command economy?

jafs 2 years ago

Well, that's one clear problem with trying to predict the future - it often doesn't replicate the past.

And, I never said that Lawrence would halve it's population.

You miss my point there - when you assume growth is inevitable, you do so without any particular basis in reality, as you find when you look at other places that have shrunk. And, of course I don't want Lawrence (or any other place, for that matter) to become a "ghost town". I just don't think that's likely for Lawrence, given the nature of college towns.

Why would we have to do anything particular to make those numbers match up? Generally speaking, I think that sort of equilibrium is naturally created by the actions of individuals and businesses in responding to individual desires.

The city did in fact try to get in front of growth by expanding various things, and then found we hadn't grown as much as anticipated, and would have been better off spending money on maintaining what we have instead of expansion.

Why do you think I advocate "doing nothing"? Never have and never will.

The difference between small towns in which young people are leaving and older ones dying and a college town like Lawrence should be obvious. In order to thrive, the former does have to attract new residents, while the latter doesn't. College students provide an ongoing supply of consumers, employees, and tenants.

All of the things you mention seem to me that they will naturally occur if population growth occurs, and the demand is there, which is fine. But if it doesn't, we don't need to artificially "encourage" it, in my view.

If the population of Lawrence stayed constant for a while, and the equilibrium is found at this point, I see no problem with that. Editorials like this assume that continual growth is a good, or necessary thing, and I find no justification for that. It's just a belief.

With population growth come positive and negative aspects. In some ways Lawrence was more pleasant to live when I moved here. Why would I want to encourage constant growth?

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

I just glanced at wiki and looked at Lawrence's population. For the 15 decades they documented, every single one showed population increases. Now if I were projecting the population of Lawrence in the next decade, would I project an increase, a decrease or flat growth? If I needed to decide if we needed a new school or not, what would my guess be? If I was in charge of zoning decisions, would I make those decisions based on an assumption of growth, decline or flat population?

If I wait, we may see kindergarten students sitting on each other's laps or we might have one school too many, should population fall. But someone has to decide. Just saying projections might be wrong will have consequences. Even if your best information is wrong sometimes, it's still the best information you have.

So, yes, Jafs, I think Lawrence's population will grow and yes, I think we should make plans accordingly. For schools, parks, jobs, infrastructure, everything.

jafs 2 years ago

Ok. I looked at that as well.

During that time, the population growth has ranged from less than 1% a decade to over 400% in one. How exactly will you decide how much our population with grow in the next decade, and what to do accordingly?

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

What would I do? I'd throw out the 400% and the 1%. I'd try to understand what was going on during those times and try see how that correlates to today. For that, I'd rely on the expertise of experts. That's what I keep saying when I say get the best information possible. I could guess, you could guess. But at least with them, it's an educated guess. It's like going to a doctor when you're sick. He "practices" medicine. He won't be right all the time. But his guess is better than my guess and better than your guess.

jafs 2 years ago

Also, you seem to think that policies and actions taken by city government have no influence over growth, and it just sort of happens regardless.

Or policies at the state level.

For example, Lawrence is in KS, and the actions taken by our current state government have an effect on Lawrence residents and prospective ones as well. We would move now if we could to another state because of those actions.

So, if/when a city expands infrastructure, schools, etc. that may very well encourage people to move here that otherwise wouldn't have. If/when they do that, you can't just say "See, growth happens".

We expanded infrastructure to the east and west, and built a lot of new housing there. As a result, a lot of people moved here who work in Topeka and KS City, who might very well not have moved here otherwise.

I just don't see the need to expand stuff before population increases, unless we think it's going to increase at the over 400% pace. As people move here, we can expand services accordingly. Why should I have to pay higher taxes to expand city services, etc. to encourage growth I don't really want?

See below.

Hudson Luce 2 years ago

Lawrence has a small number of rich families who use the place as their own cash cow. They run their projects through the City Commission which they control, lock, stock, and barrel. It's obvious to any industry that considers Lawrence as a place to put their operations that they have to have a "buddy" from one of these families, or they won't be in business here long. Corporations see this, and stay away. Word does get around. The recent business about the way Rock Chalk Park was handled is a case in point, it's a bad deal that the taxpayers of Lawrence can't afford, but it provides cash benefits to a couple of the families which run the place, so it went through the City Commission on the fast track. As a result of the tax arrangements for this deal, the rest of Lawrence will be paying still yet higher property taxes, and residential real estate values will fall. And seeing the influence of big family money on local politics, most of the population has lost interest in taking part in elections. The only thing really keeping the place afloat is KU - and if the state runs into financial difficulties and has to make really big cuts there, Lawrence will be in big trouble with lots of debt and a shrinking tax base with which to pay it. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm pretty sure "more of the same" isn't it.

LogicMan 2 years ago

Just back from a shopping trip to Topeka. Hit four stores that Lawrence doesn't have including Lowes and Menards. All but one were packed full of shoppers. Then ate at a chain restaurant that Lawrence doesn't have either. It was bursting with customers too.

jafs 2 years ago

And yet, you don't seem to want to live in Topeka.

LogicMan 2 years ago

Excellent idea. Instead of fixing our local economy, encourage people to take their jobs, money, and amenities elsewhere. That way Lawrence's slow death spiral can continue unabated.

jafs 2 years ago

You miss my point.

Despite your shopping experiences, Topeka isn't a very pleasant place to live.

chootspa 2 years ago

Good for you. Today I spent money at three local businesses that Topeka doesn't offer, and I didn't even hit mass street.

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

Whether or not Manard's chooses to build in Lawrence, additional retail is incidental and really would not stimulate Lawrence's economy. Retail does not provide many good paying jobs. Yes, the choice is Menard's. The city did not say "No". The city just did not rezone the property. There are other businesses, CVS for example, that did not need a rezoning request. CVS chose property that was already zoned commercial.

If all of the people who posted on this blog were in the same room, they probably could bring focus to the overall challenge.

  1. Lawrence lacks a vision, a common sense of direction.
  2. Some Lawrencians are not comfortable with the investments/spending plans. (Could this be because of #1?)
  3. There is a lack of balance between growth and maintenance.
  4. Some folks cannot shake their biases and work towards a common vision.

In my opinion, Lawrence needs full time jobs in the $20 to $30/hour range. We have a void in this range. That will not happen with retail, hoteling, or recreation. The question is does Lawrence have a comprehensive plan that would accommodate businesses that have these jobs, and can Lawrence maintain the quality that would attract the new businesses we need?

LogicMan 2 years ago

"Retail does not provide many good paying jobs."

Yet people want the jobs anyway?

Such businesses to provide property and sales taxes, and draw people in from the surroundings. It's one part of the needed economic development.

I read with interest previously that Lawrence lacks small business-type warehouse, factory, etc space. Is that true?

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

We'd have to look at the comprehensive plan, H2020. My guess is we outgrew the plan faster than anticipated.

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

Liberty, A comprehensive plan is more general and does not focus on any particular component. I agree that Lawrence should not try to interfere with business decisions. We need a vision that addresses growth, but also plans for living, services, working and so on. Do we want to focus on seniors, athletes, commercial, biomedical, ...? We are a small community. Can we go in all these directions?

If some have a different vision than yours, that does not make them less worthy. Their voices are just as important. Communication really can help those with opposing views modify and accommodate their thinking.

jayhawklawrence 2 years ago

This was a good editorial.

I agree with most of it. When you get an F on your report card and continue doing the same things it is not very hopeful for the future.

jafs 2 years ago

I trust you voted against the library expansion proposal, as I did?

If not, then you lost your right to complain about the outcome of that vote.

chootspa 2 years ago

Actually, people do use libraries. First off, not everyone has "Google, and cell phones, and laptops," and even people who have those things still have uses for libraries. You might want to check out books instead of buying them. This is especially cost-saving when it comes to feeding the voracious appetite of a beginning reader (and most children don't have cell phones and laptops these days). You might want to search through their databases or have a reference librarian help with your research. Contrary to popular opinion, Google Scholar doesn't have access to every periodical under the sun, and reference librarians don't just Google the answer to all your questions. You might want to borrow a DVD, an audio book, or even an eBook. They have those, you know. You might want to take a computer class or have a meeting space for your local club.

It's pretty obvious that you haven't visited a library recently. Perhaps you should.

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

Stranger, I use all the technology you mentioned and more. I still like to use the library. Sometimes, I think reading comprehension is better with hard copy. And Googling, Wikipedia, etc. promote selective reading. You only see what you are looking for. Did you know that online researchers seldom check the second and subsequent pages of a search? Did you know that reading and writing have become limited to the height of the monitor's screen? Technology has its place but should not totally replace other sources of knowledge.

ChuckFInster 2 years ago

Interesting to see how a discussion on the Lawrence economy has dissolved into random thoughts. Part of a bigger issue ?

Carol Bowen 2 years ago

Yes. These random thoughts are symptoms of a bigger issue. I brainstormed a list in a previous post. A humble effort. How would you describe a bigger issue?

jayhawklawrence 2 years ago

I voted against the library but the majority approved it. Now it is time to accept it and move on. The decision was made and the investment over 20 years is going forward. It does not do any good to complain all the time.

On the other hand, I believe we need fresh talent and a fresh perspective on how we improve our economy. Those who want to maintain the status quo need to be gone. Change is needed and a younger generation needs to take the city in a new direction.

If we want to be great we have to be ethical. We have to have principals and we have to have a standard that is not corrupted as our state and national politics have become. We need the idealism that comes from the younger generation. I hope they will be educated because this is a community that values above all else, education and great ideas.

paisley 2 years ago

I agree with Dolph's editorial. The way I see Lawrence is that it enjoyed "the good life" for many years...eating and eating and growing more obese with every bite. Now it's unhealthy and needs to diet some to get back within "normal" weight and it just can't stick to a diet. The end result will be it's own massive heart attack! And that heart attck may be fatal or at least need many long hard years of rehab.

jafs 2 years ago


And, again, this editorial is complaining that Lawrence isn't growing enough, and that we should encourage more growth, both of population and businesses.

It's a mentality that "bigger is better", which is obviously not always the case.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

In very general terms, Lawrence's growth mirrors that of Kansas, the U.S., the world. Population is going up all over the place and we need to plan for it. I just glanced at wiki again. I looked at Topeka, Wichita and Detroit, to get a look at other Kansas cities as well as a well known case of a city in decline. Topeka had 16 different decades documented in terms of population, with growth in 15 of them. Wichita was 14 for 14 in growth. Contrast that with Detroit which in the past 11 decades, saw growth in the first 5 of those and declines in the next 6. I've never been to Detroit, but from everything I've heard, it appears to be the least desirable place to live, of those I glanced at.

Perhaps it would be helpful for this discussion, Jafs, if you could give an example of a city that has had flat growth the past several decades, yet remains a desirable place to be. When you look at that place, ask yourself why it's so desirable and can that model be copied here? What unique set of circumstances has that place experienced that has allowed for them to have flat growth, bucking the world trend, yet they have remained vital? I'm just guessing, Jafs, but I think those places would be few and far between. Maybe you could give a list of 5 or 6 such cities, so I could see what they have in common, that sets them apart from the Lawrence, Kansas' of the world.

jafs 2 years ago

If so, then we don't need to "encourage" it, as this editorial suggests.

I might do some research about that, if I have the time and inclination.

jafs 2 years ago

Well, I wasn't able to find a list of towns with stable populations.

But, I found a very interesting article about a study showing that slower growing cities outperformed the faster growing ones in a number of ways, economically.

In fact, I think the slowest growing ones did the best.

If you google "towns with stable population", you'll find it.

chootspa 2 years ago

If Lawrence mirrors the growth of Kansas, then it woud actually be growing more slowly than the rest of the nation. Check the census.

jafs 2 years ago

And, if the study is correct, in order for us to do well economically, we should be discouraging people from moving here rather than the reverse, which is interesting.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

Jafs, I did google what you suggested. In the one third of a second that google did it's search, 21.2 million hits came up. I read the first one, about a town in Iowa that was hit hard economically when the meat packing plant was busted for employing illegal immigrants. I assume that's not the article you were referencing. Rather than reading the other 21,199,999 articles, I did a little research of my own.

I looked at 4 cities that over the course of several years, I've heard good things about. I also chose these cities because they are home to major universities and if we talking about emulating certain cities, that seemed to be a logical place to start. The four cities I chose were Bloomington, Indiana, Boulder Colorado, Madison Wisconsin and Austin Texas. Just to let you know, I've visited two of those cities and two I have never stepped foot in. Anyway, all I did was look at their population growth. Not surprising, all four experienced substantial population growth over the course of the past several decades.

Every city will have unique features. Madison and Austin are state capitols, so that might change the dynamics. But as I said, I've heard good things about all four. That would be the things you've previously mentioned as being important, like diversity, a vibrant cultural scene, nice restaurants, etc.

I'll ask again, Jafs, give me four or five cities that meet the criteria you've set forth, vibrant economies, theater, art, diversity, and no population growth?

jafs 2 years ago

Within the first 5-10 google hits, you should find the article - it's about a study by an economist named Fodor. It compares areas with slower population growth and faster, and concludes that in a number of ways, the slower growing areas actually outperform the faster ones economically. This is interesting because it flies in the face of what many believe - it's even more in favor of the slower growing areas than I was. I thought it was a "six of one, half a dozen of the other" scenario.

I couldn't find a list of stable population areas - most of the stuff I found was about population growth, which is interesting. It suggests that many people think it's a good thing, and are looking for areas that have it.

College towns generally have the kinds of things we like, which is why we live in one. And, we'll almost certainly look for another one in another state when we move. But, we might very well try to find one that doesn't grow as quickly or as much as Lawrence has over the time I've lived here. For example, State College PA has an average annual growth of about 5% over the last 20 years, while Lawrence has one of about 18% a year over the same period.

Since the world population is increasing, as you've pointed out, it may be hard to find a zero population growth area that we'd want to live. But, not to worry, we're due for a big pandemic any day now.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

Just to let you know, I still couldn't find it. I looked at the first 30 links, but when it got to grey wolf populations, I quit looking. So I googled Fodor, economist and came up with an Andrew J. Fodor, an economist and professor at Ohio University. Amongst the selected publications listed was nothing related to towns with stable populations.

But I think my point still stands, that if you're looking for towns with the criteria you've set forth, add in the element of towns with major universities in them, then you're looking at towns that are growing. If you're looking at towns with stable populations, you're going to have to sacrifice some of those criteria.

One more point, when I looked at the cities I mentioned earlier, I looked at their populations from 1970 until present. I did this simply because I mentioned elsewhere that Lawrence's population had (nearly) doubled since I first moved here and 1970 would be about when I arrived.

jafs 2 years ago

Sorry about that.

I'll look some more and try to get you more precise info on it. It's the third from the top when googling towns with stable population, on a site called online opinion - I don't know why you can't find it. The tag line is Cities with Stable Population Outperform faster growing cities.

My math was off on my examples - the accurate math would be that State College has grown annually at a rate of about .4%/yr, while Lawrence has grown at about 1.6%/yr, both over the last twenty years. So Lawrence is growing 4x as fast as SC. Also, the crime rate in Lawrence is about 3x that in SC.

I picked that time frame because it pretty much mirrors my time here.

If it's true that population growth correlates with a lower performing economy, then it could very well be that Lawrence's economic issues have been caused by the quick growth. So, the last thing we'd want to do is get even more people to move here.

I'll take .4%/yr growth - seems very manageable to me, especially since the SC population is about 1/2 of Lawrence's right now. So, in the next ten years (if the trend continues), SC will add about 2,000 people, while Lawrence will add about 14,000 people. In twenty, SC will have added 4,000, and Lawrence 28,000.

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