Lynn Parman admits she was in the right place at the right time.
The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's vice president of economic development just left a similar position in St. Joseph, Mo., to join the chamber in July. Five months later, Parman found herself in the middle of one of the biggest deals of her short career.
Officials from Serologicals Corp., an Atlanta-based life sciences company, were looking to locate a new $28 million manufacturing facility somewhere in the Midwest. And Lawrence was on their list of cities.
At stake were 40 high-tech jobs that paid an average annual salary of $47,000 a year. The project also would help end a bit of an economic development drought for Lawrence. The city hadn't attracted a new major industrial employer since it lured Prosoco from Kansas City, Mo., in late 1999.
And perhaps most of all, the project would begin to validate what economic development leaders had been preaching for the better part of five years -- Lawrence could become a major player in the life sciences industry.
Parman -- who had been in the economic development business for four years in St. Joseph, and prior to that was a city administrator for a western Missouri town -- jumped on the chance.
She put together packages, arranged tours, and helped form a coalition of university, city and county leaders to help sell the company on Lawrence.
It ultimately worked. In December, Serologicals announced it would build its new biotech plant on 12.5 acres in the East Hills Business Park.
Parman listed the attraction of the company as the highlight of her first year on the job, in large part, because she knew it might be awhile before such an opportunity came along again.
"A project like that probably won't come along once every five years or so," Parman said. "So, you can imagine, I was pretty pleased to have it happen in my first five months on the job. I definitely ended up in the right place at the right time."
But it was exactly the type of project Parman hoped to be a part of when she took the county's top economic development job, which opened when Debi Moore resigned in February of 2002.
"I was excited about coming here because I thought it was an opportunity to sell a really great community," Parman said. "That and the people here are very passionate about the community and economic development.
Parman isn't promising 2003 will include another project the magnitude of Serologicals, but she does have definite goals for the year. Here's a look at her nine priorities for the rest of 2003:
- Develop a community work force development program. The program would create a forum for area businesses to discuss ways to address training gaps that exist in the current work force.
- Create a business recognition program. Parman is planning to have an awards ceremony this fall to honor a variety of area businesses.
- Expand the chamber's business committee programs. The chamber in 2002 created the Agribusiness Network and the Douglas County Manufacturers Network.
- Increase entrepreneurial development activities. Parman said she'll be looking for ways to coordinate the activities of small business development groups, such as the Lawrence Regional Technology Center and the KU Small Business Development Center.
- Begin searching for new business park opportunities. Parman said her office would continue to support the efforts of the county-appointed ECO2 board, which is searching for ways to create more business parks and open space in the county.
"We want to be a catalyst to encourage business park development in the county because we think the shortage of available industrial space is one of the more pressing problems we face," Parman said.
- Increase business retention efforts. Parman said she'll complete the first comprehensive survey of the county's existing industrial businesses in 2003. She said her department will use the results of the annual survey to determine how the chamber can better help businesses remain in Douglas County.
- Start a community education initiative about economic development. Parman said she hoped to begin running advertisements to better educate the public on the role economic development plays in the community. She also is considering an economic development summit that would bring together the public, economic development officials and elected leaders.
- Support the chamber's Excellence By Design campaign. The campaign is raising funds from private citizens to support economic development. Parman said her department will be making special efforts to keep donors informed on how the money is being used.
- Complete the department's redesign of marketing materials. The department received $50,000 from the city and the county to update the brochures and other marketing materials it sends out to companies looking to locate in the county.