Lawrence city leaders hear about new survey in which majority of businesses say the city isn’t business friendly

photo by: Nick Krug

The former Borders building located at the southeast corner of Seventh and New Hampshire streets is pictured Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.

Lawrence has an official goal to be the “most business-friendly community in the region,” but a new survey found that less than half of the city’s business community currently finds the city friendly.

City commissioners at their meeting Tuesday evening received the results of the community’s first business satisfaction survey, which included responses from 308 business representatives in the community. A headline finding of the survey was that 51% of all respondents did not find the City of Lawrence to be business friendly.

“Lawrence has developed a bad reputation,” one of several hundred anonymous comments left as part of the scientific survey read. “Developers and businesses do not want to come here because they make it so difficult.”

But the survey also suggested that many of those businesses have learned to live with it. Despite a majority of respondents saying the city was not business friendly, 59% of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied as a place to do business.

City officials last year spent $19,000 to conduct the mailed survey to businesses in the community. On Tuesday, City Manager Craig Owens told city commissioners that the findings were consistent with what staff had heard anecdotally from members of the business community.

“It isn’t what we wanted to hear, but it is not a surprise,” Owens told commissioners. “Now, we just have to do the work and be good listeners.”

Owens said lots of work is underway, with one of the largest projects being the rewriting of the city’s development code. City officials have said a primary goal of that project is to streamline the process that new development must go through to win city approval. Satisfaction with the city’s building code and development review process ranked low among those businesses that responded.

The survey found four issues that businesses think should receive the most attention from city leaders in 2023. The city’s development review process and its building permit program were two of the four. The other two, however, tracked closely with what general residents had expressed in an earlier, communitywide survey.

Crime and public safety issues, including police response, was the issue most frequently cited as the most pressing issue for the city to address in 2023. Street and sidewalk maintenance was the second most cited issue among respondents.

The survey was conducted by ETC Institute, which conducts similar surveys for many communities in the Kansas City metro area. Officials with ETC provided a comparison of how Lawrence’s survey results compared to recent Kansas City metro averages. Those included:

• 71% of Lawrence businesses ranked the response of police and public safety personnel highly, compared to 47% in the KC metro.

• 45% of Lawrence businesses ranked code enforcement in the community highly, compared to 41% in the KC metro.

• 40% of Lawrence businesses ranked street and sidewalk maintenance highly, compared to 42% in the KC metro.

• 44% of Lawrence businesses ranked the educational and technical skills of area workers highly, compared to 34% in the KC metro

• 29% of Lawrence businesses ranked the availability of workers highly, compared to 58% in the KC metro area.

City officials conducted the business satisfaction survey for the first time after creating a strategic plan that calls for the city to become the most business-friendly community in the region, and also sets a priority of “providing robust support for business retention and expansion.”


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