Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Lawrence feels like home for new Chamber hire

Beth Johnson named vice president of economic development

April 22, 2006


The Chamber of Commerce's new vice president of economic development, Beth Johnson, has a special appreciation for the way Lawrence's differing interest groups work together.

She's impressed by the Lawrence community's willingness to meet halfway.

"Like when the industrial park development people and the open space preservation people are sitting at the same table. They move both of their ideals forward - it's amazing," she said. "That doesn't happen most of the time, that in the end it all works out."

She said Lawrence's different groups had a relationship of knowing how to work together.

"It's learning how to make a situation a win-win for both," she said. "Lawrence is a lot better at that than some other places."

Neither Dallas nor Lyons, the two cities she's worked for in the past, were as good.

"Dallas is such a community that could work together, but in the end only one side wins," she said. "Lyons has options, but it's so rural that it needs someone to step up to the plate, and a lot of people drop the ball. It doesn't get the best of what it could be."

So what does it mean that Lawrence's many groups are able to work together so well?

"It says we are progressive," Johnson said, already considering the community her own after living here only four months.

She said the Lawrence community's combination of working together well, of continuing to work on its great quality of life and of being in an ideal location, between the cities of Topeka and Kansas City, has success written all over it.

"You have to find a balance of all these things to make a great community," she said. And she thinks Lawrence is a great one.

"It has lots of opportunities, for business and families," she said.

Johnson appreciates the passion that Lawrence is known for.

"Every community has their passionate groups. Lawrence has a lot of them, and that's great," she said. "When considering a project, I have to consider how it weighs on the community, which groups are most affected and which groups need to get on board."

She says the balancing act is a challenge, but that's part of the job.

"Every ED will tell you their job is challenging," she said. "It's so secretive in nature, because businesses don't want others to know where they're looking, and you have to find such a balance for the community. Not every business is good for a community. And no matter what the industry is, somebody doesn't want it."

As the Chamber's economic developer, Johnson said her two main responsibilities are to bring jobs and new business to Lawrence. To start, she's been getting to know the city's business owners and elected officials, as well as surveying the available buildings and sites that could suit potential new businesses.

"People want jobs that are nice, good, higher-paying jobs," she said. "That's when families really become part of a community, and buy a house and put their kids through school."

She says she wants to work on enticing new residents to live here, including KU graduates who are just entering the job market.

In finding her own career niche, Johnson has kept similar goals throughout the years. She knew early on that she wanted to work in city management.

"I always told my mother I wanted to live in Texas," she said. "When I was a little girl I wanted to be the first NFL coach. When I was about 13 or 14, I started thinking, 'Boy, that's a dumb idea - OK, new dream.'"

Johnson, a native of Sterling, received a bachelor's degree from Kansas State in political science and a master's from Wichita State in public administration. An internship in Dallas gave her the opportunity to make her move to Texas, where she initially hoped to settle down. There, she worked in the mayor's office and for the city council.

"I was in Dallas when the city was a finalist for having the Boeing headquarters," she said. "I thought it was kind of an interesting process and that maybe economic development would be a fun field."

After living in Dallas two years, Johnson accepted the position of Director of Economic Development of Rice County in the city of Lyons before making her move to Lawrence.

Though it wasn't her original plan, Johnson said her work as an economic director is satisfying.

"I'm really content with what I do now," she said.

Janette Crawford lives in Lawrence.


lunacydetector 11 years, 10 months ago

industrial park and green space people are in agreement....they want to raise OUR taxes. a win-win-LOSE (for us).

just look what has happened since the Chamber started recognizing the very vocal fringe opposition in our gave the fringe credibility and they took control with a no-growth city commission.

Mr_Missive 11 years, 10 months ago

It makes me feel good that Lyons Kansas is now the feeder for Lawrence Economic Development.

lunacydetector 11 years, 10 months ago

if this lady isn't a hardcore political hack, maybe she will FINALLY get something done, unlike the last youngin. they should get debbie moore to consult and train these new economic development people, if she still lives around here.

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