New economic ranking shows Lawrence moving up but still below average; city lands on Top 100 list of best places to live
It is a day full of rankings, so I’ll get us started: I rank winter my least favorite season, but the most likely season for me to spill a bowl of warm oatmeal in my bed — intentionally. I’m sure that ranking is on the Internet somewhere, but that’s not the one I’m focusing on at the moment. Instead, Lawrence has been ranked on two lists: one good and one not so good.
It is Monday — the No. 1 ranked day to confuse your Brylcreem for your toothpaste — so it seems fitting to start with the not so good. The Milken Institute has again come out with its lists of the Best-Performing Cities in America. If you remember, the 2012 study ranked Lawrence as the second worst performing small metro area in the country. The 2013 report ranked Lawrence No. 105 out of about 180 small cities. Well, the 2014 report is out, and Lawrence checks in at . . . No. 99 out of 179.
So, we’re improving. We’ve moved up 79 spaces in three years, which if we were talking about KU football would cause fans to have a love letter to David Beaty tattooed on their foreheads. But I would guess that some community leaders still find it irksome that several of our peer communities rank quite a bit higher than Lawrence. They include: Iowa City, No. 5; College Station, Texas, No. 8; Columbia, Mo, No. 11 after having been ranked No. 1 in 2013; Ames, Iowa, No. 14; and Waco, Texas, No. 21. Those are all college towns, but high rankings weren’t just reserved for college communities. St. Joseph, Mo., an industrial town that has built up a hub of animal science companies, ranked No. 16.
This study looks at a variety of statistics related to job growth, wage growth and several measures of high-tech firms that are located in a community. Lawrence has talked a lot about wanting to be a community that has a significant presence in the high-tech world, so these rankings really are measuring the type of community we want to be. Here’s a look at how we ranked in each of the eight categories measured. Remember, there are 179 communities ranked, so anything above 89 puts us in the top half of the cities ranked.
— Job growth from 2008 to 2013: No. 82.
— Job growth from 2012 to 2013: No. 117
— Wage growth from 2007 to 2012: No. 104
— Wage growth from 2011 to 2012: No. 112
— Short term job growth from Aug. 2013 to Aug. 2014: No. 17
— High-tech GDP growth from 2008 to 2013: No. 63
— High-tech GDP growth from 2012 to 2013: No. 110
— High-tech GDP concentration 2013: No. 100
— Number of high-tech companies compared with national average: No. 129.
The number that gives reason for optimism is the short-term job numbers from 2013 to 2014. As we’ve reported previously, Lawrence has had a good year in terms of new job numbers, according to federal statistics. Local economic development leaders continue to have a hard time pinpointing where those new jobs are at, but we’ll keep an eye on those numbers in 2015 to see if they continue on an upward track.
The numbers that continue to grate on people the most probably are the wage growth numbers. The expectation is that Lawrence’s status as a highly educated community has to start translating into higher wages at some point. Thus far, all of our wage growth numbers are in the lower half of the study.
As for other cities in the study: Topeka ranked No. 102. Manhattan was just small enough population-wise that it was not part of the study. Fargo, N.D., was the top ranked small metro area. The Milken Institute also conducted a separate ranking for 200 larger cities. Kansas City finished No. 77, while Wichita was ranked No. 154. The highest ranked cities in the region were Denver at No. 12, Boulder at No. 13, and Fort Collins, Colo., at No. 17. San Francisco was the top ranked large city.
As for the study’s authors, The Milken Institute indeed was founded by convicted junk bond felon Michael Milken, but its studies have been pretty well-regarded as being worthwhile research.
• The second study that mentions Lawrence has to do with the “livability” of Lawrence. The folks at the Web site Livability.com have released their Top 100 Best Places to Live ranking for “small to mid-sized cities.”
Lawrence ranks No. 74 on the list. The study’s authors looked at about 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000 people. The study looks at a variety of factors about schools, housing, crime rates, income levels, health care and other such factors. The report notes Lawrence’s strong economic sectors of education, agriculture, finance, and government and scientific research. It also highlights Lawrence’s “vibrant art and music scene.”
Lawrence was one of three Kansas communities on the list. Overland Park was No. 17 and Manhattan was No. 70. Other cities in the region included: Boulder, Colo., No. 4; Iowa City, No. 10; Fort Collins, Colo., No. 24; Ames, Iowa, No. 30; Lincoln, Neb., No. 37; Columbia, Mo., No. 50; Des Moines, Iowa, No. 82; Springfield, Mo., No. 85.
The No. 1 ranked city was Madison, Wis. That’s fine and good, but it would take a lot of oatmeal for me to live there in the winter.
Lawrence no longer second-worst performing small city, new report concludes; rental registration supporter accuses landlord of ‘dirty politics’
It is not exactly the type of thing you put on a banner, but Lawrence is no longer the second-worst performing small city in America. We're now a middle-of-the-pack community.
If you remember, we previously reported on a report by the Milken Institute that found Lawrence ranked 178 out of 179 small metro areas in terms of its economic performance in its 2012 report.
Well, the Milken Institute now has put together its 2013 report, and Lawrence checks in at No. 105 out of 179 small metro areas. The report measures communities based on a number of economic statistics compiled mainly by the federal government.
Lawrence continues to suffer in the categories that measure job growth and wages. Lawrence ranked 87th in job growth for the period of 2007 to 2012. But from July 2012 to July 2013, Lawrence ranked 69th in job growth, so perhaps that is a sign the local economy is picking up.
The numbers are less encouraging on the wage front. Lawrence ranked 115th in wage growth for the period between 2006 and 2011. The report also measured wage growth for the 2010 to 2011 period. Lawrence came in 160th in the category.
But there are some notable improvements in Lawrence's numbers. In the 2012 report, Lawrence didn't crack the top 100 in any of the categories. This year, Lawrence ranks high in two categories that will please economic development leaders. Lawrence was ranked No. 2 in the category of high-tech GDP growth for the 2010 to 2011 period. Lawrence also ranked No. 34 in high-tech GDP growth for the period of 2007 to 2012. There wasn't any one big new company that has caused that spike, but it is worth noting that most of the jobs that have been created out at the incubator facility on KU's West Campus probably fall into that high-tech GDP category.
It also is worth noting what community took the top spot in this year's report. (It certainly isn't anything to put on a banner.) Columbia, Mo., was ranked as the No. 1 small performing metro in the country, up from No. 10 in the 2012 report.
Other regional cities of note included:
— Iowa City: No. 15
— Waco, Texas: No. 22
— Joplin, Mo.: No. 61
— Ames, Iowa: No. 71
— Topeka: No. 121 (up from 144 last year)
The report also ranks the top performing large metro areas. Austin, Texas, ranked No. 1. The Kansas City metro area ranked No. 68, up from No. 104 last year. Wichita ranked No. 183, down from No. 146 a year ago. The report ranked 200 large metro areas.
People can make whatever they want of the rankings. The Milken name — remember Michael Milken and junk bonds in the 1980s — sometimes raises eyebrows, but this Milken report is generally well-respected. Regardless, Lawrence's near-bottom ranking last year had a lot of locals talking, so I wanted to pass along this year's numbers.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I'll tell you what else has people talking these days: the late surge in opposition to the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program. As we reported last week, the city received about 40 letters of opposition, mainly from tenants, who were concerned about the program possibly violating their privacy.
Now, it appears landlords have been doing their fair share of letter writing as well, sending out letters to their tenants that paint a scary — and city officials say inaccurate — picture of what city inspectors will do once in a tenant's home.
An official at the large northwest Lawrence apartment complex Hutton Farms confirmed leaders there sent out an email to all its residents last week. It included the following paragraph:
"If approved, a city inspector, trained by a former police officer, will enter your apartment and document and photograph their findings. This documentation will include not only code issues but your personal information and photographs of your personal items."
City officials have taken exception to that language. When I shared the letter with city officials, Scott McCullough, the city's director of planning and neighborhood resources, crafted a response to make it clear that any photographs that would be taken as part of a rental unit inspection, won't include photos of personal items. Instead,the photos are close-up shots of code violations — anything from mold on a wall to an improperly wired outlet. Plus, city officials said the tenant or the property owner is always welcome to accompany inspectors, and monitor what photos are being taken.
The letter really has created hard feelings with some supporters of the proposed rental inspection program.
"I would characterize it as a scare tactic that is most unfortunate," said Candice Davis, an Oread neighborhood leader who has been a longtime supporter of a rental inspection program in the city. "I think they are playing dirty politics. It was an extreme distortion of the truth."
She noted the city has run an inspection program for rental properties that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods for about 11 years. The issue of inspectors taking improper photographs of personal items has not seemed to create many concerns as part of that program.
I've got a message into an executive with Hutton Farms' management group for further comment on the letter.
What isn't known is how widely the letter may have been distributed to tenants around town. The Hutton Farms employee — she declined to give her full name — said Hutton Farms' sister complex, Tuckaway Apartments, sent out a similar letter. Plus, the employee said there were some indications the letter had been distributed at other apartment complexes around town.
Davis said she's confident fear mongering by landlords has been the main reason there has been a surge in opposition from tenants. It is worth noting that while many complaints have come from tenants recently, the Kansas chapter of the ACLU also has expressed concerns about some parts of the program.
Regardless, city commissioners still have a decision to make on the proposed program. Commissioners delayed action on the program last week, while staff members gather more information. The program is set to come before the commission again at its Dec. 17 meeting.