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Latest Census numbers show Douglas County had fewer private sector jobs, businesses than in 2000

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.

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