LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk
Retail sales grow for sixth consecutive month in Lawrence; KU launches 25th startup company; city receives another incentive request
March Madness. You all remember those days in Lawrence. We were all mad. Stupid doctors who can't fix Joel Embiid's back. Stupid Stanford mascot. Stupid television screen that can't withstand a platter of 23 pounds of bean dip being thrown at it.
Well, evidently we weren't so mad that it stopped us from shopping. In fact, perhaps nothing in 2014 will stop us from spending our dollars in Lawrence. The latest sales tax report from City Hall shows that spending for the period from mid-March to mid-April was up nearly 4 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The bigger news is that this is the sixth consecutive report that has shown an increase in spending by Lawrence consumers.
For the year, sales tax collections are up 3.8 percent. That's a welcome sight to those who watch the Lawrence economy. The 3.8 percent growth rate is better than the 2.1 percent growth rate posted in 2013. Retail sales activity in 2013 began to show some signs of slowing, but the 2014 numbers should be easing those concerns.
Even though state revenue figures have been less-than-stellar lately, the sales tax numbers show a retail rebound is underway in several of the state's larger communities. Lawrence's 3.8 percent growth rate is just middle-of-the-pack compared with several other communities. Here's a look at the growth rates in other major shopping areas in Kansas:
• Emporia: 5.1 percent
• Garden City: 5.7 percent
• Hays: down 23.4 percent
• Hutchinson: 2.4 percent
• Junction City: down 0.3 percent
• Kansas City: 4.2 percent
• Leawood: down 1 percent
• Lenexa: 5.1 percent
• Manhattan: 0.8 percent
• Ottawa: 6.3 percent
• Overland Park: 5.5 percent
• Salina: 2.1 percent
• City of Shawnee: 3.9 percent
• Topeka: 1.5 percent
• Sedgwick County: 3.1 percent
So, the numbers are good, but it is important to keep them in perspective. Two other closely watched sets of numbers haven't gotten off to as strong of a start in 2014: home sales and local building permits. We'll have an update on the latest numbers from those sectors in the coming days.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Here is another Lawrence number to take note of: 25. Kansas University has recently announced that its 25th startup company has been formed. This one is all about protein. Yes, I have a platter of bean dip that would seem to make me an expert on protein. (Well, I have pieces of the platter.) Regardless, that's not really the type of protein we're talking about.
KanPro Research is a company that produces laboratory proteins that are used by other research companies. KU biochemist Philip Gao is the founder of the company. The firm currently has two employees and is located in the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on KU's West Campus. Gao said he believes the company could grow to 10 employees by 2017.
The company expects to sell its proteins — it specializes in hard-to-produce proteins — to other universities and to the private sector. In particular, Gao expects the large and growing animal health sciences industry that is centered on the Kansas City area to be a major source of industrial companies.
Currently, the company is producing smaller, laboratory-scale batches of proteins, but Gao said he thinks there's potential to grow into a larger regional facility that would produce large batches for manufacturing purposes.
"Our goals are long-term," Gao said. "We want to create a lasting company in Lawrence with a focus on serving regional scientists and benefiting the biotech community."
• Yesterday we told you about a financial incentives request city commissioners have received for a $75 million apartment project. Commissioners also have received another request for a smaller scale project.
As expected, local architect Stan Hernly is requesting a partial property tax rebate and fee waivers to facilitate the rehabilitation of an old home and barn at 1106 Rhode Island St.
In case you have forgotten, 1106 Rhode Island St. is the property the city bought through the eminent domain process earlier this year. The house and barn are historic structures that had fallen into disrepair under previous ownership. The city's plan was to purchase the property and then make it available for redevelopment by the private sector.
Hernly's group has proposed renovating the structures to accommodate residential and office uses. But Hernly sad the numbers clearly show that project isn't feasible without financial incentives. Hernly is asking for the city to waive about $26,000 in development fees, such as building permit fees and utility connection fees.
As for tax incentives, Hernly is asking for a property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The project is seeking an 85 percent abatement on new property taxes generated by the project for a 10-year period.
City staff members are recommending that the request be forwarded to the Public Incentives Review Committee for study and recommendation.