Archive for Thursday, January 24, 2002

Eudora economy perceived positively

January 24, 2002

Although Lawrence sometimes presents an unfriendly face to business growth, outlying Douglas County communities like Eudora encourage it, according to some participants and attendants at a Douglas County economic planning meeting Jan. 17.

The meeting was one of two sessions offered to get the public up to speed on economic development in Lawrence and the county, specifically the Horizon 2020 strategic economic development plan.

Even though early on in the meeting discussion centered on Lawrence's job growth and tourism, Shirley Martin-Smith, co-chairwoman for the Douglas County Economic Development Board, said partnerships with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce meant Lawrence could cooperate with surrounding towns on economic development.

When the panel consisted of representatives from Eudora, Baldwin, Lecompton and rural Douglas County, audience member Mike Haskins of Lawrence said he saw business growth in outlying towns, especially Eudora, shown in a positive light in both the media and in general attitudes.

"I don't see that positive limelight being thrown on Lawrence," Haskins said.

M-Pact president and Douglas County Economic Development Board member Jim Martin represented Eudora on the panel.

"I think the position is the community of Eudora appreciates to have an opportunity to work close to home," Martin said.

A lot depends on publicity, too, like "getting things out to the public and reminding people we're here in Douglas County, too," said Baldwin City Administrator Larry Paine.

Some voiced their agreement with Horizon 2020's goal to market Lawrence and Douglas County in a way that sets them apart from their peers. That means capitalizing on positive aspects while retaining the uniqueness of the county's individual communities, like Eudora.

Martin explained how M-Pact and the Intech business park sprung up, and why in his opinion Eudora's business environment was flourishing.

"We have a super school system; a very positive attitude in the local government," he said.

In his 10 years in the Eudora community, Martin said he'd also come to appreciate the quality of the workforce in the comparatively-small community.

"I encourage you to take a look at Eudora," he said.

Although Eudora's business environment may look good from the outside, some on the inside don't agree. Eudora Chamber of Commerce President Keith Turnbaugh has said over and over Eudora has one big problem with development: zoning, zoning, zoning. Inappropriate zoning, he said, hinders growth along and near K-10.

In addition, Kansas State University economist David Darling said Eudorans were spending one-third of their money in Eudora, meaning the town lost vital spending money to Lawrence and the Kansas City area. Anchor businesses, like hardware and clothing stores, help keep the balance, he said.

Horizon 2020 calls for a three-pronged approach to Lawrence and Douglas County economic development, part of which includes growing jobs and the tax base equal to or above the growth of population and housing.

Paine said Baldwin City already dealt with the threat of becoming a bedroom community by placing a temporary moratorium on housing develop ments. Eudora faces a similar threat because residential property growth out-paces business property growth, since businesses are evaluated higher than homes, the school district loses out on what it can collect locally.

The other facet of Horizon 2020's goals includes creating more jobs whose wages can sustain an average-size family. History showed Douglas County's employment growth rates of all jobs, regardless of wages, exceeded that of surrounding counties in the 1990s, in part because the number of firms increased 38 percent between 1989 and 1999. Despite the firms moving in, like Hallmark and the K-Mart distribution center, Martin-Smith said many jobs were also lost.

"While there's been a lot of good news," she said, "there's a lot of bad news that goes along with it."

Panel member Ernie Angino, former mayor and Lawrence city commissioner, first voiced the idea of Lawrence as unwelcoming to business. Part of the solution, he said, meant getting bankers as involved as they had been in the past.

"We need to put together a cooperative group to help us find financing," Angino said.

People also need to change their minds about industry, too, which Angino said people still tend to think of as dirty, belching smokestacks rather than industries like M-Pact and Air Filters Plus at Eudora's Intech.

"Let's be honest and say we've come a hell of a long way," he said.

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