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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.
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.