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Lecompton and Downtown Lawrence's Christmas parade both garner national media attention; Lawrence ranks low in new per capita income report, while Manhattan soars


News and notes from around town:

• Forget the fiscal cliff, forget the Middle East conflict, heck, even forget Black Friday (I wish I could). The national media finally has found a worthy place to sink its teeth into: Douglas County.

Lawrence and Douglas County have received a pair of high-profile articles from the national media in recent days.

At the top of the list is little Lecompton and its tireless top-hat-clad promoter. If you have ever been to an event in Lecompton, chances are you either met or at least saw Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society. Well, now so too has The New York Times.

The Times last week ran an article on Lecompton and Bahnmaier’s efforts to get the town of about 600 people national recognition as Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln” hits the big screen.

The movie is based on the book “Team of Rivals,” which mentions Lecompton and the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution that set in motion a series of political events that would culminate with Lincoln’s election.

Bahnmaier has been contacting media outlets throughout the state and region, urging them to take a look at Lecompton’s history.

As he told The Times, Lecompton should not play second fiddle to more well-known Civil War sites such as Fort Sumter, Gettysburg or Appomattox.

“None of those places would be important had the events not occurred here in Lecompton,” Bahnmaier told The Times.

The article is a good primer on Lecompton’s importance in the broader picture of the Civil War and Lincoln’s rise to power. But even more than that, it is just nice recognition for a man who has devoted himself to ensuring Lecompton’s important role in national history is not forgotten.

By the sound of things, Bahnmaier has gotten fairly excited about the surge in national interest in Lecompton. The Times’ article revealed that Bahnmaier routinely dines on a turkey sandwich at Kroeger’s Country Meats in Lecompton. But on a recent afternoon, “he was so excited about the possibility of national coverage of the town’s history that he allowed himself a quarter-pound cheeseburger.”

Now, that’s pretty excited.

The second recent article has organizers of Lawrence’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade excited. The parade will make its way down Massachusetts Street for the 20th time at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

The folks at USA Today named the parade as one of “10 Great Places to Put a Spin on the Christmas Spirit.” The article promotes the parade as one of the few places where you can still get that old-fashioned Christmas feel.

Lawrence, however, has some interesting competition. One is The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The hotel is Christmas themed all year round. It features a singing Santa and a nearby gift shop that has “tens of thousands” of holiday accessories.

That sounds like pure Hell. It may be the only hotel in the country where Norman Bates visiting your shower may improve your stay.

Then there is something called Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, Texas. It involves people dressed up in the Victorian clothing of Dickens’ era. It also includes something called “bed races.”

No thank you. My wife had me train for one of those once. It involved me on a roll-away cot, my basement stairs and her giving me a big push.

I knew there was a reason I never liked Dickens.

• There is a new report out that probably won’t cause Lawrence to garner any national headlines. The Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its estimates for 2011 per capita income in each of the country’s 366 metro areas.

Lawrence isn’t likely to land on any “best of” lists in this category. The Lawrence metro area — which is all of Douglas County — has a per capita income of $33,379, which ranks it 271 out of the 366 metro areas. There is good news though. Lawrence’s per capita income grew in 2011, which was not the case in 2010. In fact, for the first time since 2007, every metro area in the country saw an increase in per capita income. Lawrence’s per capita income grew by 3.5 percent for the year. Nationally, however, the average metro area saw its per capita income grow by 4.3 percent. If those are the Joneses up ahead, we’re not keeping up.

I’ll tell you a community that is, though: Manhattan. Our friends in the K-State capital now have an average per capita income of $43,593. That’s right, folks in Manhattan have about $10,000 more in per capita income than folks in Lawrence. (This is normally where I would make some sort of math-related joke involving Wildcats, but it appears they understand math better than we do.) Manhattan’s per capita income growth rate was 6.4 percent in 2011, and the city now has the 55th highest per capita income of any metro area in the country.

And you thought the beating we took on the football field was bad.

Lawrence leaders long have pointed to the city’s role as a university community as a drag on per capita income. There are certainly many university communities that suffer from low per capita incomes as the result of students who drag down the average. But anymore, it seems there are just as many university communities that have diversified their economies and have negated the downward income pressure create by low-earning students.

Here’s a look at several communities. Some are university towns, while others are not. I mainly picked regional communities and others I thought you would be interested in:

— Lawrence: $33,379; 3.5 percent growth — Ames, Iowa: $37,429; 6.1 percent growth — Austin, Texas: $40,455; 3.9 percent growth — Boulder, Colo.: $51,893; 3.7 percent growth — Columbia, Mo.: $37,350; 4.1 percent growth — Iowa City, Iowa: $41,277; 6.1 percent growth — Jefferson City, Mo.: $35,453; 3.2 percent growth — Joplin, Mo.: $31,408; 3.9 percent growth — Kansas City Mo./Kan.: $43,062; 3.9 percent growth — Lincoln, Neb.: $39,018; 4.8 percent — Lubbock, Texas: $34.573; 1.9 percent growth — Manhattan: $43,593; 6.4 percent growth — Oklahoma City, Okla.: $40,002; 5.9 percent growth — Omaha, Neb.: $44,470; 4.4 percent growth — St. Joseph, Mo.: $34,189; 4.8 percent growth — Springfield, Mo.: $33,302; 4.1 percent growth — Topeka: $37,765; 5.2 percent growth — Tulsa, Okla.: $42,236; 6.8 percent growth — Waco, Texas: $33,943; 2.7 percent growth — Wichita: $38,568; 4.4 percent growth


Catalano 5 years, 5 months ago

I know you love math, Chad, so here's a challenge for you: compare the per capita income for Lawrence with the average wage for Lawrence. I'd also like to see the average home sale price for all the communities you listed. It will give you something to do while covering city commission tonight. ;-)

RushboK 5 years, 5 months ago

The entity most responsible for this is yes KU. “Lawrence leaders long have pointed to the city’s role as a university community as a drag on per capita income.”

But this is not because of youth and/or college age employment this is due to the university paying ridiculously low salaries to working class types. If you want to dig deeper on such a story interview facilities and other labor types who work on campus even administrative and mid-level staff. Or look for yourself you can see all university salaries are online. The gap between administrative and or leadership/directors is astronomical.
While the university spends millions on improvements to various educational entities and even while the university continues to receive a record numbers of donations pay has remained stagnant for many years. Yes of course the economy plays a role and the state budget was indeed a mess but it has been circulated for years that the university artificially keeps salaries low... to the detriment of the entire community.

I overheard a prominent director tell someone “the best thing about a bad economy is I don’t have to worry about pay raises, people will work for nothing.” I have never heard KU administration in all my years here say that they are looking to take better care of their employees. Hey KU start doing more for your employees. Pay a decent wage.

Catalano 5 years, 5 months ago

Wouldn't that theory apply to Manhattan and Topeka, as well? I don't think state wages vary from town to town.

average 5 years, 5 months ago

The old notion of "the state wage" is deader than you may realize. It's still there for Highway Patrolmen and corrections staff, but, since the wage-grid hasn't budged for years (and was below market for most categories then), most 'desk jobs' hired in the last decade are unclassified. Those aren't aligned from desk-to-desk in the same office, let alone statewide.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 5 months ago

There are certainly many university communities that suffer from low per capita incomes as the result of students who drag down the average++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

They left out the part about Lawrence doing everything they can to attract vagrents, panhandlers and anyone else who can't or chooses not to pay their own bills.

chaseandfreeman 5 years, 5 months ago

I think RushboK makes a decent point. I worked in Strong Hall as a student and know the pay disparity between University Administrators and Professional staff, most of whom have a Masters degree is quite stunning. Certainly Iowa City's per capita number benefits from having the University of Iowa hospital within the city, whereas KU Med is in Kansas City. Still, I don't think a wage gap at KU comes close to being "most responsible" for this rank.

I think Cant_have_it is way off on his/her analysis. Surely Lawrence has plenty of people out of work, or refuse to work, but based on that logic Washington, D.C. should have a terrible income level, and it doesn't. If there is a point to be made, you may have equated "vagrents" and the amount of people living in poverty, but that number is calculated in a way that conflicts with how per capita income is calculated. The result? Several cities "above" Lawrence on this list have higher poverty rates.

I guess I am not surprised by the number for another reason. Of the six largest employers in the town, only three are in Private Industry: Berry Plastics (formerly Vangent) & Hallmark Cards. The other three are: KU, Lawrence Public Schools, City of Lawrence, and when you factor in the amount of Lawrence to Topeka commuters that work in State Government, that's a whole lot of jobs that likely come in under $30,000 on average.

To call the business climate in Lawrence "hostile" might be a bit over the top, but The City does very little to advance a climate in which industry can succeed, and larger retail stores can expand to meet demand. The owner of Milton's claimed to have shut the restaurant down not out of financial concern, but because of an "odd deal." I've been to enough Chamber meetings to get the sense that the politics of doing business in Lawrence can be labeled hostile. The bottom line here, is that unless a town has an industry (or several) that require college degrees and thus pay out decent salaries it's never going to make a dent in some of the gaps between Lawrence and similar communities.

If the city really were concerned about this number, it would have to faced its own "baked-in" demons. Lawrence is a lot like Austin in that its diversity comes more as a result of several lifestyles rather than race or gender. The folks that live West of Kasold seem to "see" Lawrence in a much different way than the folks who live East of Kasold. West Lawrence residents had to tolerate a "Shadow" Walmart only after 5.5 years of a fight led mostly by residents and a city council who had no reason other than sentiment and politics to oppose it.

average 5 years, 5 months ago

"and larger retail stores can expand to meet demand."

Is our main problem a lack of retail? "Build it and they will come"? If there isn't demand (due to little disposable income), adding more retail and (almost by definition) zero-disposable-income retail jobs doesn't change much.

Besides "retailing our way out of this" being a dead-end street in the not-so-long run. With the younger and tech-savvier crowd, I have no doubt that Amazon, etc, do above-average business in Lawrence. As online works to kill retail nationally... Lawrence may just be a bit ahead of that curve.

KiferGhost 5 years, 4 months ago

Exactly right. Retail is what you do when you have people who can buy the stuff. Lawrence pushed being a bedroom community and is paying a lot of money supporting all that those people yet we don't make things. Thanks to the internet for online shopping and now the new bypass people will be even more compelled to drive over to the larger big box stores in KC instead of whatever dwarfed down version Lawrence may get.

William McCauley 5 years, 5 months ago

"To call the business climate in Lawrence "hostile" might be a bit over the top"

No it's not over the top to say that at all, this town is majorly hostile to new businesses seeking to open here, regardless the type of business it is.

average 5 years, 5 months ago

As long as you put the blame in the right place. The years where Boog and Rundle were in the majority numbered 2 out of 50-otherwise-unbroken years of Chamber-lead city government. That was a decade ago, and were two of the strongest growth years the city had. It's not the crazy lefties wallowing in mud for a rec center. Or who wanted a massive library boondoggle over small improvements.

A lot of the real hostility is from the big-fish-in-the-small-pond good-ol-boys who would rather board up downtown than see something they don't have their hooks in.

KiferGhost 5 years, 4 months ago

Retail will only take a town so far especially in a bedroom community. Walmart zaps a lot of life of what retail there is. Walmart is outside of Lawrence and the problem with big box retail stores, their profits go out of the Lawrence economy while they pay their employees peanuts. What Lawrence needs to encourage are local businesses who actually make something.

oldbaldguy 5 years, 5 months ago

I suspect Ft Riley contributes a lot to Manhatten's prosperity. Above comments on Lawrence are valid.

flloyd 5 years, 5 months ago

It's the better quality of education at KSU over KU that leads Manhattan over Lawrence in almost all regards. And this from a former student of both universities.

somedude20 5 years, 5 months ago

Well holy spirit barricade......

A per capita income of $33,379 and yet the city wants a new library and a new sports complex but will have to raise water rates by over 28% to pay for basic upgrades to the water system and, and....and the police force (ya know, the peeps that keep us safe(er)...) needs and upgrade to keep on doing their job......so, if the city wants to take on way more debt that it's people can afford, they better get good at stealing or enticing some rich cats to move here because people who on average earn $33,379 ain't going to be able to pay for all of that

RushboK 5 years, 5 months ago

“A per capita income of $33,379 and yet the city wants a new library and a new sports complex.”

The very reason why in the long term Lawrence will always be slow to succeed. Priorities are screwed up. A library, sports complex I guarantee you the middle class individuals who make up this community don’t see that as a priority yet as pointed out will pay for that.

Protecting the precious downtown who gives a damn if middle income people can’t afford to shop down there... hell you can barely afford to drink down there anymore.

People in Lawrence will march and protest to support the homeless, send of legions of buses nobody rides and Lawrence always looks to coddle the indigent population.

Meanwhile KU utilizes it millions of dollars to expand the university, but still will hike student tuition and rape the pockets of its employees but extorting parking fees and I say again its employees are paid like crap. However most employees won’t say crap because “we are lucky to be working for KU, right?” “A poor economy means wages can stay low…” Higher ups on the totem pole earning 5 or 6 times people working in same building, seriously people?

Feel free to keep spending millions to make Lawrence prettier, but do nothing to bring more and better paying jobs while allowing KU’s leadership to be OK with paying many of its skilled employees paltry wages. It is simply ridiculous and this matter should concern everyone. Do nothing and watch monetary class start to divide this city like so many others across the country are starting to fracture.

optimist 5 years, 5 months ago

The low wages in the city are simply driven by the lack of competition. The city is losing jobs faster than new ones come in. Lawrence is widely considered one of the least friendly places in the state and the Midwest to do business. Until there are enough businesses in here to compete for the human resources located here there is nothing to drive up salaries. Building a library and athletic facility would have been much easier with a broader tax base but we needed to expand the tax base first to pay for them rather than incur debt to do it which will make businesses less likely to locate here. The city won't have financial flexibility to incentivise them.

Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 5 months ago

I disagree. I have thought for years that the low wages are driven by lots of competition for the jobs that are here. Many people like the quality of life they find, here, and are willing to take lower wages than they might accept in another city, simply to allow them to live in Lawrence. People come for KU or HINU, like it here, and stay. Or they come because their husbands/wives/significant others come to teach or go to school at KU. Employers here can hire fairly well-educated employees for relatively low wages. Why should a company hire a high school graduate at $15/hour when they can get someone with a Master's degree to work for $10/hr?

optimist 5 years, 5 months ago

You're flat wrong. My experience hriring people in Lawrence (and I have many years of experience across multiple industries) is that college graduates are unwilling to accept lower or even reasonable wages for their labor. They come here and like it here but they don't understand that we have a surplus workforce and a declining jobs base. It is an employers market. In order to increase wages we must have employers competing for talent. This is simple supply and demand. I don't understand why so many find this simple principle so hard to grasp. It's very basic economics.

Thinking_Out_Loud 5 years, 4 months ago

We're thinking about competition from different perspectives. I was thinking of competition as the number/ quality of persons in the job pool. You're thinking of competition as the number/ quality of potential employers. The fact is that we both agree that it is an employer's market and that if there were more employers seeking qualified employees, the glut of potential employees would be reduced and wages would necessarily increase. The rest is semantics, and moderately bores me.

KiferGhost 5 years, 4 months ago

Business friendly? Could it be that any business that makes real things can't find skilled labor here to produce it? Topeka and small towns around it that have been tied into the what use to be the Kaw Valley Technical school clearly have the advantage over Lawrence where originally shop wasn't even included at Free State when it opened. What business wants to locate in a town that is more interested in jobs where no one gets their hands dirty?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

Sorry you all but I believe Chestnut is a Brownback economic thinker. He will be for eliminating more jobs. Beware. Definitely a Chamber of Commerce thinker.

It is the high taxes, high rent, over saturated markets,low wages and only so many dollars available that make Lawrence business unfriendly.

Building more residential only adds to the problems of Lawrence. 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.

But with increased numbers of residential you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality.”

Commuters spend their money where they work instead.

KiferGhost 5 years, 4 months ago

" it seems there are just as many university communities that have diversified their economies"

Don't confuse our local chambercrats with this concept. They only play one note on the developer's flutes.

KiferGhost 5 years, 4 months ago

Lawrence really needs to accept that fact that not all jobs are going to be those that hire the well educated. The recent story that our subsidized drug company only wants to be the brain power and let some other town make the stuff is problem one for a town full of posers who are only suddenly discovering that perhaps vocational training is worthy. The fact Free State High School opened without a shop class showed this town is lacking in imagination yet we could spend millions on sports excess.

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