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Town Talk: Lawrence ranks No. 17 on Forbes' "Best Small Places for Business and Careers"


Lawrence, stay smart.

It's already paying dividends for us. The Lawrence area has been ranked No. 17 on Forbes' new list of "The Best Small Places for Business and Careers."

And it sure appears that Lawrence's brain power is the main factor in driving the city to the high ranking. The folks at Forbes ranked 184 metro areas with populations ranging from about 50,000 to about 260,000, and Lawrence ranked No. 3 in the category of education. That category measures items such as the percent of people with high school diplomas, college education and advanced degrees.

It has been a consistent theme for at least the two decades I've been in town that Lawrence ranks very high nationally in those types of educational rankings. (I've tried to argue cause and effect, but to no avail.) You would expect Lawrence to rank highly, as a university community, but it's worth noting that Lawrence consistently beats lots of other university communities in these sorts of rankings. Being able to tell potential businesses that we have a pool of well-educated people seems to be an enduring strength for the city.

The Forbes editors said they give a fairly heavy weight to the education factors in the ranking process, in part, because that seems to be what business site selectors are paying more attention to these days.

"Quality of life is often overemphasized compared to operating costs and conditions," Jerry Szatan, a Chicago-based site selection consultant, told Forbes. "Education measures are always good. One of the fundamental building blocks in economic development is smart people."

Forbes did rank communities in two other broad categories: Cost of business and job growth. Lawrence's ranking were more in the middle of the pack in those categories. Lawrence ranked No 51 out of 184 in the cost of doing business category, and No. 90 in the job growth category.

I know how you all love lists, so here are a few of them I've broken out of the Forbes report:

Here's a look at the top five ranked communities in Forbes' education category.

  1. Ithaca, N.Y.

  2. Corvallis, Ore.

  3. Lawrence

  4. Ames, Iowa

  5. Columbia, Mo.

Midwestern communities fared well in the Forbes ranking. Here's a look at the rankings of best small places for business and careers of some other communities in the region:

• Manhattan: No. 3.

• Iowa City: No. 13

• Ames, Iowa: No. 15

• Lawrence: No. 17

• Columbia, Mo.: No. 20

• Topeka: No. 71

• Jefferson City, Mo.: No. 95

• Joplin, Mo.: No 108

• St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 111

There are a few cities on that list that maybe wouldn't trade places with Lawrence, however. For whatever reason, the Forbes ranking system really didn't give much weight to the job growth numbers a community has been posting. Many of the regional communities on the list ranked much better in the job growth category than Lawrence. Here's a look:

• St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 13

• Columbia, Mo.: No. 17

• Iowa City: No. 19

• Manhattan: No. 20

• Ames, Iowa: No. 35

• Joplin, Mo.: No. 49

• Topeka: No. 61

• Lawrence: No. 90

• Jefferson City, Mo.: No. 123

It's been an interesting year for Lawrence and rankings. Some of you probably remember that Lawrence earlier in the year was ranked as the second worst performing small metro area in the country by The Milken Institute. Yet now we're No. 17 on the Best Small Places for Business and Careers.

It can be tough to understand, but it just drives home the point that when you measure different things, you'll get different results. The Milken study was much more focused on backward-looking data about jobs, wages, GDP growth and other similar numbers. The Forbes report looks at some of those numbers, but also puts more emphasis on factors like education. It also contracts with a company that makes projections about future economic growth in the communities, and weights those projections. Lawrence, for example, is projected to have 2 percent job growth in the future. Lawrence leaders would take that after several years of negative job growth.

Granted, it may be more fun to land on some of Forbes' other lists like: the "400 Richest Americans," or "The World's Billionaires", or "The World's Most Powerful Women." (That one is very subjective, by the way. Angela Merkel has never made me mow the lawn.) But as Lawrence tries to take its economic development efforts to a new level, Forbes' "Best Small Places for Business and Careers" is a nice list for the city to tout.


nick_s 4 years, 5 months ago

For a commuter town that has very few, if any, solid career oriented employers & an abundance of hourly, no benefit, no-future jobs, Lawrence sure does end up on a lot of lists stating otherwise. All of the indicators used in these lists say one thing, while my everyday experience completely contradicts them. First rule of statistics, correlation is not causation.

Alpenglow 4 years, 5 months ago

Amen to that! The Chamber folks would give anything for that ranking to be reality, but it's far from the truth and they're working their tails off to make it happen.

Janella Williams 4 years, 5 months ago

Whatever. I have NO trust in any Chamber of Commerce.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 5 months ago

So the conclusion from this is that we rank #1 in underachievement?

Maybe setting higher goals should become a priority.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Movers and shakers in Lawrence will do anything to sell a house. No matter that a few thousand residents leave Lawrence daily for that better paying position elsewhere. With Boulder and Burlington,Vt missing in the top I say this list is a bit skewed.

The crime rate is obviously up.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

Boulder named 'top college town' of 2013 by Livability.com http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_23784187/boulder-named-top-college-town-2013-by-livability


There are so many BEST COLLEGE TOWN lists and such. Lawrence made another known as top 40 schools in the country. Schools were not rated necessarily more like alphabetical order.

20 Most Economically Vibrant College Towns http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2011/09/americas-20-most-economically-vibrant-college-towns/155/

Sue McDaniel 4 years, 5 months ago

Low paying jobs unless you are a Dr. ,Lawyer, or CPA, or high up in Administration at KU, LMH, and a few others. Commuter town for most.....very business UNfriendly as far as I can see....

Catalano 4 years, 5 months ago

LMH blatantly practices age discrimination so forget that place unless you're young and vibrant and don't have much of a résumé to speak of.

David Reynolds 4 years, 5 months ago

Lets see now Lawrence has learned several things this year. 1) 3rd in education. 2) Lawrence ranks next to the bottom of worst performing cities. 3) We are 17th for environment for small boutique businesses. 4) 90th in job growth. So much for job opportunities for all the graduates.

The last real display of leadership was when they were able get the Turnpike (I-70) relocated so there was an exit for Lawrence & finally getting K-10 loop approved.

If it wasn't for past achievements Lawrence would be just another dusty college town with a great basketball team. Of course there wouldn't be a good way to get here.

The Leadership in Lawrence (Chamber of Commerce, City Administration & Commissioners) needs to wake up and aggressively conduct an outreach for new business before we cease to be even a footnote in the economic development world.

nick_s 4 years, 5 months ago

Ive come to the conclusion that Lawrence does not need to reach out to new businesses. Too much leg work & actual progress. We have proven that we will happily live in our perfect little community, insulated from the likes of Topeka & KC, and spend our hard earned dollars on homes that are double the price, & commute to our day jobs. Why put in the work when the city gets whatever they want already? In the absence of large employers sharing the tax burden, we all personally foot the bill for their play money. They have no incentive to do anything but their preferred norm.

sad4now 4 years, 5 months ago

Please do not buy this article ....Lawrence is a very sad place to find a decent job...who can live on 10.00 and under?...many people have to . Everyday I have to travel to Olathe to earn a decent salary. our leaders in this town find a way to focus on everything EXCEPT bringing decent paying jobs to Lawrence We need to vote these losers out and then MAYBE companies will want to bring jobs to Lawrence

orbit 4 years, 5 months ago

Wow, the job market must be REALLY bad if we're the 17th best. Very few good career jobs with decent pay and benefits in Lawrence and getting worse.

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