Sunday, February 11, 2007

Louisville: A Competitive City?

On Friday the Greater Louisville Project (from henceforth to be known as GLP) issued it's 2007 Competitive City Report for Louisville. The stated goal of the GLP is to "accelerate the pace of change to redefine Louisville as a skilled and educated community that claims it's place in the top tier of American cities."

That is a lofty goal indeed. Especially for Louisville.

The report is a slick presentation of graphs, maps, and promotional messages. Much of the information was useful...and encouraging. Some of it was simple blubbering by a civic group - but what can ya say, they're all that way anyway.

The GLP report focuses on the central county - Jefferson County, Kentucky - unlike this recent report that focuses on the entire metropolitan statistical area. The GLP report is simply one piece of an overall puzzle that represents the trends and movements in the Louisville region. In some cities, a report that focuses on the central county would be less important than it is in Louisville - but this report holds a lot of weight for Louisville because 3 out of 5 residents of the MSA are residents of Louisville Metro - Jefferson County.

This report focused it's energy on three points of comparison - Educational Attainment, Professional Jobs, and Balanced Regional Growth. The report compared Louisville to 14 other competitor cities - Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, Richmond, Nashville, Omaha, Cincinnati, Columbus, Birmingham, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Memphis, Jacksonville, and Dayton. And at least on the education front, we're making real progress

By steadily increasing the number of people in the age group of 25-34 with Bachelors Degrees, we have moved from the near the bottom of the pack at 11th place, to the middle of the pack, at 8th place. In 2000, only Dayton, Memphis, and Jacksonville fared worse than us in this age group, but by 2005, Louisville had rushed past Greensboro, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Birmingham in this category. That is progress for Louisville.

In the performance of JCPS students on the Kentucky state CATS test, we've also seen marked improvement in only 4 years. In 2001 79% of JCPS students were proficient in reading, 70% in science, and 59% in math. By 2005 those numbers had increased to 87% in reading, 77% in science, and 72% in math. Those are big leaps in a district as large and diverse as JCPS, and in such a short period.

Louisville ranks near the top of cities in the category of citizens with *some* college experience. That highlights a huge opportunity for Louisville's institutions of higher education to develop new program to retain and graduate more students.

In 1990 nearly 1 in 5 Louisvillians hadn't even finished high school. In 2005 that number had essentially been cut in half, to 1 in 10.

Louisville's college and university have seen a swell in the number of college students in recent years, and an increased student population has led to a large increase in the number of degrees conferred in the area.

In regards to personal income Louisville has also seen some good growth. In 2000 Louisville was ranked 11th, only ahead of Memphis, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Dayton, when measuring Median Income. By 2005 Louisville was right in the middle of the pack, ranked 8th. In those 5 years Louisville had also surpassed Birmingham, Jacksonville, and Kansas City.

Another bright spot for Louisville is it's low crime rate when compared to competitor cities. Only two cities - Dayton and Raleigh - boasted a lower crime rate.

Of course, not everything can be good news.

One of the trouble spots for Louisville was the stagnation when it comes to creating and retaining high-paying professional jobs. In 2000 Louisville ranked near the bottom, at 11th place...and still occupies that position. Despite large leaps in educational attainment, we're still having trouble luring in professional opportunities.

Louisville's African-American community lost ground in home ownership rates.

In 2000 Louisville was next to last (a good thing in this case) in the percentage of families spending more than 30% of their income on housing. That number has increased, and Louisville has moved up several spots. This means working families are finding it increasingly difficult to afford good housing on their salaries in the central county.

Despite growth in home values in Louisville, it has been slower than many of our competitors, and Louisville has lost ground in this measure as well.

It is my opinion that this report, despite it's shortcomings, shows a stregthening city, and one full of opportunity for continued improvement. If you throw out all the comparisons to other cities, you find a region that seems to have fully awoken from it's doldrums of the 70's and 80's. We're growing larger, better educated, and have better oppotunities than any other time in our city's history. This is truly an exciting and great era for Louisville.

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