Since Lawrence is a big city now, I guess my morning commute should involve a subway. (I’ll plan on getting a footlong and three cookies for breakfast.) I’m, of course, referring to the news that city planners estimate Lawrence’s population has crossed the 100,000 mark in 2018. Not everything is growing so rapidly in Lawrence, though, as a new jobs report shows.
Planners estimated that we had a pretty robust 2.5 percent population growth rate in 2017. For at least a year anyway, that’s a return to the type of population growth we saw in the go-go 1990s. Jobs in Lawrence and Douglas County, though, grew at only about a third of that pace, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Each month BLS estimates the number of jobs that actually exist in the Lawrence metro, which includes all of Douglas County. The numbers, of course, change each month, but we now have a full 12 months of preliminary data for 2017. I’ve averaged the monthly totals, and they show Lawrence had 54,375 jobs on average in 2017. That’s up from 53,950 jobs in 2016. That’s 425 jobs or a growth rate of about 0.8 percent.
There certainly was a time not long ago that any job growth was seen as a victory, so I would be careful not to sneer at 0.8 percent job growth. But there was a point in 2017 where it looked like Lawrence was poised for a big jump in jobs. At least that is what the statistics were pointing toward. In June, Lawrence posted job growth of more than 5 percent. It followed it up in July with job growth of about 1.8 percent and then 1.6 percent in August.
Since then, the picture has become negative. The preliminary numbers show the numbers of jobs in September dropped by 1.8 percent, by 1.2 percent in October, by 0.5 percent in November and 0.2 percent in December. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the specific numbers because they are preliminary and will change, but they probably are a good indication of the trend.
The other thing of note is that Lawrence did not keep up with Topeka or Kansas City job growth in 2017, and for the last part of the year, Wichita also had much higher job growth totals. Here’s a look at the 12-month average growth rates for each of the metro areas, which include the Kansas and Missouri side of Kansas City.
— Kansas City: up 1.9 percent
— Topeka: up 1.2 percent
— Lawrence: up 0.8 percent
— Manhattan: up 0.8 percent
— Wichita: up 0.6 percent
For whatever reason, though, the state’s two big college communities — Lawrence and Manhattan — both suffered slowdowns in the last part of the year. Like Lawrence, Manhattan has posted declines since September, according to the preliminary numbers. In fact, the declines in Manhattan have been even more pronounced. In December, Manhattan posted a 2 percent job decline compared to Lawrence’s 0.2 percent dip.
On the other end of the scale is Wichita. It has posted job increases for eight straight months, according to the preliminary data. Topeka and Kansas City had much less volatility. Both communities posted job gains for every month of the year.
Is Lawrence the biggest part-time city in America? Plus, a look at other recent job statistics for the city
As the students return, it is an important time for numbers in Lawrence. Two of the most important: the PIN for the ATM and the phone number to the parents, which becomes particularly important when the first number no longer works. Here’s a look at a few other numbers important to Lawrence’s economy.
• Is there a citywide siesta hour that I haven’t been informed of? If not, something odd seems to be going on in Lawrence’s workforce.
City auditor Michael Eglinski found some interesting information about our workforce as he was putting together a report measuring how Lawrence stacks up financially to other similar communities. What he found is the number of hours we work in a week is less than almost any other community in the nation.
Federal statistics show that private-sector employment grew from 34,900 in 2013 to 36,400 in 2015 in Lawrence. But during that same period, the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the average hours worked in a week declined by 2.7 hours.
One possible conclusion is that Lawrence was adding jobs, but lots of them were part-time jobs. What’s more striking is that Lawrence seemed to be doing so at a rate greater than almost any other community. Eglinski looked at the April 2016 report from the BLS and found that Lawrence had the lowest average hours worked per week of all 387 metro areas included in the study.
I looked at the more recent July numbers, and they showed much the same thing for Lawrence. Here’s a look at how Lawrence compares with other Kansas communities and a few other college towns in the region:
— Statewide: 33.8 hours per week
— Lawrence: 28.7 hours per week
— Manhattan: 33.7 hours per week
— Topeka: 32 hours per week
— Wichita: 34 hours per week
— Kansas City: 33.8 hours per week
— Ames, Iowa: 32 hours per week
— Iowa City: 33.2 hours per week
— Columbia, Mo.: 31.2 hours per week
As you can see, Lawrence is low even for a college community, where you would expect to see more part-time jobs. Surely this figure is related to Lawrence’s most troubling economic statistic: income levels that lag the region.
It seems like it is an issue worth studying. Let’s do so right after we get done with this four-hour coffee break.
• As we reported last week, Lawrence’s unemployment rate increased a bit during July, but there’s one industry that definitely is not to blame: the hotel and restaurant industry. Eating, drinking and sleeping are becoming bigger business in Lawrence all the time.
The number of jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry increased by 500 — or 7.5 percent — in July 2016 compared with July 2015. The industry was the top-growing industry in the city, according to the most recent report. As for why the growth is occurring, Lawrence has built some new hotels and upgraded others, Rock Chalk Park continues to do well in attracting tournaments, and, perhaps most importantly, the development of south Iowa Street has added several new restaurants that are providing jobs. All those new chicken places may be producing more than just an increase in cholesterol levels.
For whatever reason, the industry also is growing in other Kansas communities. The Wichita area saw growth of 3.1 percent in the leisure and hospitality industry, while the Kansas City metro posted 5.5 percent growth.
While job growth in any category is good news, job gains in the leisure and hospitality industry usually aren’t the type of jobs that help Lawrence with its goal of increasing overall wages. Lawrence, however, did post strong numbers in the professional and business services job category, which involves a variety of higher-paying jobs related to the management of companies. Lawrence added 300 of those jobs in the last year. That was good for a 6 percent increase, which is better than the statewide average of 1.4 percent.
Perhaps the toughest news in the report for Lawrence was that the community continues to struggle with manufacturing jobs and, to some extent, construction jobs. The goods producing category, which includes both construction and manufacturing, is down 5.4 percent. That’s a worse showing than the state as a whole, which saw a decline of 2.7 percent in the category. The Lawrence report doesn’t separate the manufacturing jobs from the construction jobs, but other reports indicate that construction activity is still relatively robust in Lawrence.
Here’s a look at some other Lawrence job numbers (for you data geeks, note these are all nonseasonally adjusted) and how we compare with other metro areas in the state:
— Lawrence: Overall jobs: 49,500, down 1 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Leisure and hospitality, up 7.5 percent; professional and business services up 6 percent; education and health services, up 1.8 percent. Top losers: goods producing jobs, including manufacturing and construction, down 5.4 percent; trade, transportation and utilities, down 2.5 percent; government jobs, down 2.1 percent.
— Manhattan: Overall jobs: 41,400, down 0.2 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Service providing jobs, up 0.6 percent. Top losers: goods producing jobs, down 5.4 percent; government jobs, down 0.8 percent.
— Topeka: Overall jobs 110,400, down 1.4 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Education and health services, up 1.1 percent; Top losers: trade, transportation and utilities, down 5.6 percent; manufacturing down 4.1 percent; government, down 1.5 percent.
— Wichita: Overall jobs 295,100, up 1 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: professional and business services, up 3.6 percent; leisure and hospitality, up 3.1 percent; education and health services, up 2.1 percent; manufacturing, up 0.6 percent. Top losers: mining, logging and construction, down 4.8 percent.
— Kansas City, Kan., metro: Overall jobs: 467,700, up 1 percent from July 2015. Top gainers: Leisure and hospitality, up 5.5 percent; mining, logging and construction, up 4.4 percent; financial activities, up 3.7 percent. Top losers: information, down 8.2 percent ; manufacturing, down 2.3 percent; government down, 1.1 percent.
Apparently it is not just my wardrobe that lingers in a past decade. (I'll be out at several events today, and yes, I really am wearing a 100 percent polyester, narrow KU tie.)
There are some relatively new numbers out about the Lawrence economy that show jobs and business totals are actually below where they were at the beginning of 2000.
The numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau's County Business Patterns Report. The report measures the number of private sector business establishments in a county and the number of employees in those businesses. (So, no government jobs included.) The latest data is for 2011. Here is what it had to say about Douglas County.
Douglas County had 1,329 fewer private sector jobs than it did in 2007, which is right before the Great Recession began. That's a negative growth rate of 3.4 percent. Going all the way back to 2000, Douglas County has 427 fewer private sector jobs. That's a negative 1.1 percent growth rate.
The report also looks at the number of business establishments in a county. An establishment, by the way, is each place of business. So, for example, if a single dry cleaning company has four stores in Lawrence, that's four establishments. Douglas County has 191 fewer establishment than it did in 2007. That's a negative growth rate of 6.8 percent. Going back to 2000, the county has 23 fewer establishments. That's a negative 0.8 percent growth rate.
How do Douglas County's numbers stack up to our peers? Well, nearly everyone saw job and business losses since 2007. We experienced a great recession after all.
Here's a look at 2007 to 2011 growth rates for other large Kansas counties:
• Douglas County: Negative 3.4 percent for jobs; negative 6.8 percent for establishments.
• Johnson County: Negative 5.6 percent for jobs; negative 4.2 percent for establishments.
• Shawnee County: Negative 0.4 percent for jobs; negative 8.1 percent for establishments.
• Riley County: Negative 6.4 percent for jobs; negative 2.9 percent for establishments.
• Sedgwick County: Negative 7.8 percent for jobs; negative 7.9 percent for establishments.
• Wyandotte County: Negative 2 percent for jobs; negative 3.8 percent for establishments.
All in all, we held our own during that time period. I think people will find the totals since 2000 a little more concerning. They look like this:
• Douglas County: Negative 1.1 percent jobs; negative 0.8 percent establishments.
• Johnson County: Positive 5 percent jobs; positive 6.1 percent establishments.
• Shawnee County: Negative 11.3 percent jobs; negative 5.3 percent establishments.
• Riley County: Positive 5.3 percent jobs; positive 9.5 percent establishments.
• Sedgwick County: Negative 7.9 percent jobs; negative 0.2 percent establishments.
• Wyandotte County: Positive 5.2 percent jobs; negative 4.2 percent establishments.
Since 2000, Douglas County has failed to keep pace with Johnson County, Wyandotte County and Riley County when it comes to job creation. We're still outpacing Shawnee County, but that may soon change. Its growth since 2007 has been better than ours. So, all in all, the long-term trend isn't great.
I'm not sure what to make of these numbers, to be honest. But they do seem to add to the question of whether Lawrence's economic standing has fallen further than other communities. I found these numbers as I was doing research for an article on that very question. Look for that article — where we quiz 10 local leaders on the state of the Lawrence economy — in Sunday's Journal-World.
The Lawrence economy is kind of at an interesting point right now. There are some things on the ground that support reason for optimism. Housing sales and housing starts are up. Retail sales posted a strong year in 2012. Construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway is expected to bring new commercial interests to town. The Farmland Industries property gives the community industrial land to market. Downtown redevelopment has hit a new gear. And new development interests already are starting to surface around the Rock Chalk Park development in northwest Lawrence.
As one economic development leader told me, the data is rearview mirror stuff. The stuff on the ground is front windshield material. Certainly, good drivers want to spend more time looking out the windshield than the rearview mirror.
But what do I know? As my wife will tell you, I certainly don't know how to use the mirror on the wardrobe.