Lawrence shoppers slow spending pace a bit, but city still hottest retail market in the state; where Lawrence ranks as a great college town
It is a little early yet for data to show how retail spending is going this holiday season in Lawrence. But my family’s credit card statement must be encouraging. President-elect Trump somehow saw it and tried to appoint me Secretary of Commerce. All this is to say I have the latest report on local retail sales, and it shows that shoppers are still spending more than they did last year, but their pace has slowed a bit.
City officials have received their November sales tax check. The money represents sales taxes collected primarily in September, so it is still a bit early to say this report provides an indication of holiday shopping (unless you count the pre-Halloween candy sales, which I know some people who do.) The latest report shows sales tax collections were up by 1.7 percent compared with the same month a year ago. That growth is positive, but it is not nearly as large a number as what the city has been posting for most of the year. Many of the monthly reports have shown increases of 5 percent or 6 percent, and some even have been double-digit increases.
It will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence’s retail spending flattens out to end the year. Retailers already know whether that’s the case or not, but we can’t really know until we see the reports that will be released over the next few months. (I used to ask retailers for updates on how holiday sales were going, but they inevitably reported everything was going well. In their defense, they had just seen my credit card walk through their front door, so they had reason to be optimistic.)
Thus far for 2016, the city is sitting pretty when it comes to sales tax collections. The state report shows Lawrence sales tax collections year-to-date are up 5.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago. If the city can at least maintain that pace for the rest of the year, the city’s budget will have some unexpected money coming its way. City officials had projected a 3.7 percent increase for the year. Thus far, the city already has collected $1.2 million more in sales tax revenues than it did during the same period of 2015.
The question, though, is whether Lawrence can continue on this pace? Time will tell on that, but in the meantime, something is happening in Lawrence that has it near the top of the charts in terms of retail activity among the big markets in the state. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s year-to-date growth totals stack up:
— Lawrence: up 5.7 percent
— Olathe: up 3.8 percent
— Topeka: up 3.4 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.7 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.8 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.9 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.7 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.3 percent
— Lenexa: down 3 percent
As has been the case most of the year, city officials point to three areas that have spurred the significant increase in sales tax collections: a 25 percent increase in the sales of building materials; a 7 percent increase in the sales of motor vehicles and parts; and 6 percent increase in sales at food and beverage stores, i.e., grocery stores, not restaurants and bars.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Whatever is happening in Lawrence, a new report that ranks the best college towns in America found it only mildly impressive.
The financial website WalletHub has released its annual list of the best college towns in America, and Lawrence ranks No. 69 out of the 415 cities studied.
Obviously, a ranking of No. 69 puts Lawrence solidly in the top quartile of the rankings, but I guess I’m still a bit ho-hum about it because the report ranks a lot of communities that you wouldn’t consider college communities. For instance, Olathe — home to MidAmerica Nazarene University — is ranked as part of the report. Yes, it has a university, but, gentlemen, paint your school’s mascot on your bare chest and walk through downtown Olathe, and you’ll find it is not really a college town.
What’s more notable about this ranking is where Lawrence compares with other big time college communities. Here’s a look at some regional college communities:
— No. 14: Ames, Iowa, home to Iowa State
— No. 17: Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa
— No. 18: Austin, Texas, home to the University of Texas
— No. 28: Morgantown, W. Va., home to the University of West Virgina
— No. 37: Manhattan, home to Kansas State
— No. 48: Boulder, Colo, home to the University of Colorado
— No. 49: Stillwater, Okla, home to Oklahoma State
— No. 51: Columbia, Mo., home to the University of Missouri
— No. 57: Fort Collins, Colo., home to Colorado State
— No. 63: Norman, Okla., home to the University of Oklahoma
— No. 69: Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas
— No. 78: Waco, Texas, home to Baylor University
— No. 82: Lincoln, Neb., home to the University of Nebraska
— No. 110: Fort Worth, Texas, home to Texas Christian
— No. 112: Lubbock, Texas, home to Texas Tech
If you are interested in the top 5 overall, they are:
— No. 1: Oxford, Ohio, home to Miami University
— No. 2: East Lansing Mich., home to Michigan State
— No. 3: West Lafayette, Ind., home to Purdue
— No. 4: Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University
— No. 5: Amherst Center, Mass., home to University of Massachusetts
So, as the list above demonstrates, there is a reason to allow Texas schools to be in our conference. Without Waco, Fort Worth and Lubbock, Lawrence would have been last of the Big 12 towns in this study.
But, of course, it is just one study and, like all rankings, it is highly subjective. But WalletHub does generally use solid data from the Census Bureau and other government agencies to compile its rankings, so that is why I pass some of them along.
Unfortunately, this report doesn’t provide a lot of specifics about what areas Lawrence excelled in or struggled in as part of the ranking. It does rate Lawrence as No. 138 in ‘wallet fitness” rank, which includes items such as housing and living costs. Lawrence scored worse in the “social and environmental” rank, coming in at No. 212. That category includes everything from number of bars and restaurants per capita to crime rate statistics. Lawrence’s best area was “academic and economic opportunities” rank, at No. 76. That includes, among other topics, a look at rankings of the university itself, unemployment rates and job growth numbers.
So, make whatever you will of it. My takeaway is it probably is still going to be awhile before I can return to downtown Olathe.
Hot spending pace continues in Lawrence with sales up $70 million so far; eastern Lawrence retailer opens; signs of expansion at tech center
The latest retail sales report shows spending totals surged in Lawrence, and they don’t even yet include the expenditures on earplugs, blinders and vulgarity detectors needed to get through the last month of the presidential campaign.
Instead, the latest report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows spending that primarily happened in August. The report builds on a nearly yearlong theme of Lawrence being one of the hottest retail markets in the state.
For the month, sales tax collections in Lawrence were up 7.1 percent compared with the same month a year ago. The more impressive number is the year-to-date total. Thus far in 2016, local sales tax collections are 5.5 percent — or about $1 million — ahead of last year’s total. To put that in perspective, the totals show that Lawrence consumers have spent nearly $70 million more in 2016 than they did during the same period of 2015.
The sales tax totals are good news for Lawrence City Hall. The city budgeted for a surge in sales tax collections, but it did not plan on an increase of more than 5 percent. Instead, it budgeted for a 3.7 percent increase. If the city can finish the year with an increase of 5 percent or more, it will result in a windfall of several hundred thousand dollars to the city budget. But we are about ready to enter the key period for the retail season. A poor Christmas shopping season could quickly reverse these numbers.
Here’s a look at how Lawrence is stacking up compared with other large retail centers in the state. All numbers are year-to-date, compared with the same period a year ago:
— Lawrence: up 5.5 percent
— Olathe: up 3.4 percent
— Topeka: up 3.0 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.4 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.6 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.4 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.0 percent
— Salina: down 2.8 percent
— Lenexa: down 4.7 percent
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we have been reporting for several months, the shopping center at 19th and Haskell is set to get a boost with the opening of a new Dollar General store. Well, the wait is over for eastern Lawrence residents. The Dollar General store has opened in the past few days. The store has announced that it is holding a grand opening ceremony at 8 a.m. Saturday, which will include several giveaways.
As I suspect you already know, Dollar General sells housewares, cleaning supplies, health and beauty, basic apparel, and some food, among other items. The new store, which was built in a portion of the parking lot of the old shopping center, employs about 10 people, the company said.
The new store definitely is the most significant development for the old shopping center in years. It will be interesting to see if the store and the additional traffic it brings to the area spurs more redevelopment of the rundown property.
• Keep your ears open for what could be an exciting development at the Peaslee Tech vocational education center in southeast Lawrence. I’m hearing that officials there are working on a deal to add a new automotive technician degree program, and may be close to finalizing a deal.
The program would teach students — likely both adult and high school — the necessary skills to enter the automotive repair industry. I think the program would involve a partnership between an area community college, local automotive dealers and others.
I’ve got a call in to the Peaslee Tech center to get more details, but I have heard from multiple sources that such a deal is in the works. I’ll let you know when I hear more.
In case you have forgotten, Peaslee Tech is the relatively new vocational education center that is run through a partnership with community colleges, local economic development organizations, and city and county tax dollars. It also has been successful in tapping into private fundraising from industry leaders to make improvements at the center, which is near 31st and Haskell.
Despite an earlier exit by the Jayhawks in the NCAA basketball tournament this year, Lawrence residents still did a pretty decent job of buying veggie trays, guacamole dip, crimson and blue face paint, beer koozies, extra televisions for the bathrooms, 50-foot Jayhawk yard inflatables and all the other standard March Madness purchases. (My list probably misses a couple of items for your typical basketball party, but I didn’t want to be accused of going overboard.)
City officials have received their latest sales tax report, which covers mid-March through mid-April. Even though the Jayhawks’ run in the tournament ended a few games earlier than the 2012 trip to the championship game, sales totals for the period were off by only 0.1 percent.
The report found that retailers did about $111.9 million in sales for the period, down from about $112.1 million during the same period a year ago.
As usual, it is never wise to put too much stock in one month’s worth of sales tax data, so let’s take a look at the broader picture. The most recent report represented the fifth of 12 sales tax reports for the year, and, thus far, sales in the city are up about 2.4 percent compared to the same period a year ago.
Taxable sales in the city check in at about $568 million through the May reporting period, up from about $554 million a year ago. The totals represent a slowdown in the growth rate from a year ago, when retail sales grew by a little more than 5 percent, and from the 2011 growth rate of 4.5 percent. Lawrence’s growth rate of 2.4 percent is just a bit behind the statewide average of 2.7 percent. As for how Lawrence stacks up to some of the larger retail centers in the state, here’s a look:
• Emporia: up 2.2 percent
• Hays: up 2.3 percent
• Kansas City: up 4.3 percent
• Manhattan: down 3.4 percent
• Olathe: up 2.9 percent
• Ottawa: up 4.2 percent
• Overland Park: up 2.9 percent
• Salina: up 1.0 percent
• Shawnee: up 4.5 percent
• Topeka: down 0.2 percent
The latest numbers also show that the Douglas County communities of Baldwin City and Eudora also are having nice years thus far on the retail front. Sales tax collections in Baldwin City are up 6.8 percent, and in Eudora collections are up about 15 percent.