Lawrence, Kansas, may be part of "Tornado Alley," but this spring's twister (the first since 1981) that ripped roofs from homes and overturned cars was an exception, not the rule. The latest winds of change to hit the home of Kansas University and Jayhawks basketball is a spike in new business, which last year added hundreds of jobs and attracted more than $40 million in capital, particularly in the area of biotech. Motivated by finances, Daniel Flynn, CEO of Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, moved his company from Cambridge, Mass. "We were having trouble raising funding and had to show that we could be good stewards of our money," says Flynn, who chose Lawrence, which offered hiring incentives and tax abatements, over BioSquare in Boston and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Sweetening the pot, KU research facilities rent for cheap: $16 per square foot annually compared with about $75 per square foot in Flynn's old digs.
An educated work force (the U.S. Census Bureau ranks the town sixth in the nation; nearly half of people over age 25 holds a bachelor's degree) reeled in Serologicals, an Atlanta-based biotech company looking for workers with chemistry and biology degrees. It plans to open a manufacturing facility there by mid-2004, according to CFO Bud Ingalls.
As Dorothy said, There's no place like home, and Flynn could second that motion. Like two-thirds of Lawrence residents, the self-described "displaced midwesterner" grew up in Kansas (near Wichita) and lived on both coasts and in Chicago. Above all, he says he missed the value and conveniences he left after graduating from KU. "I have a better, larger house than I did in Cambridge for half the price," he says. "I'm used to commutes of an hour and half to get to work. Here, I'm three minutes from my lab." Renters populate two-bedroom townhouses ($650 to $700) in the city center or upscale apartment complexes like HighPointe and Tuckaway ($600 to $900 for a two-bedroom). Families can grow into a four-bedroom house, priced between $250,000 and $350,000, in the suburbs surrounding the 18-hole Alvamar golf course.
The social scene--nightlife is concentrated on Massachusetts Street between 6th and 12th Streets--tends to favor the coed set (it is a college town, after all). Those who have settled down can get their culture fix at the area's two top venues, Lied Center or the Lawrence Performing Arts Center, or play watersports at nearby Clinton Lake. But for singles in their 20s and 30s, meeting kindred spirits can prove a challenge.
Even as Lawrence continues its sprawl, denizens remain protective of the town's charm, as evidenced by their resistance to an outlet mall downtown that eventually shut down.