Lawrence doesn't have just a new city manager. It also has a new pitchman when it comes to economic development, David Corliss told chamber of commerce leaders Wednesday.
"I definitely want to spend some time knocking on doors of regional and national companies to talk to them about bringing offices to Lawrence," said Corliss, who held his first townhall-type meeting with chamber officials since being named city manager about two weeks ago. "I think we have a lot to offer."
But Corliss said Lawrence isn't doing enough to attract new companies that offer above-average wages.
"I think we need to have a sense of urgency when it comes to economic development," Corliss told the crowd of about 30 business leaders who gathered at the Lawrence Public Library.
In addition to knocking on doors himself, Corliss said he wants to find ways to get city commissioners more involved in the recruitment process and also ways to tap into Kansas University's extensive list of alumni who have strong business contacts.
"I don't know what to do other than knocking on doors and getting the word out," Corliss said. "I think it is an empirical process. You just keep doing stuff until you find something that works."
Several business leaders at Wednesday's event applauded Corliss' focus on economic development, but said they hope he also leads an examination of whether the city needs to improve the incentives - items such as tax abatements - used to attract businesses.
"I definitely agree with him that we're relying too much on our residential property tax base," said Mark Gonzales, community market president for Capital City Bank. "But we really have to take a look at the incentives we use.
"We have to ask ourselves what it will take to bring high-paying jobs to town because everybody wants those. The competition is intense."
Corliss made it clear that his plans don't include abandoning the current partnership the city has with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and Douglas County. Currently, the city and county provide funding to the chamber to operate an economic development department that is the prime recruiter for the community. Corliss said several times that he wants to continue that partnership, but as part of the 2007 budget Corliss prepared, city commissioners approved a new economic development coordinator position that will be overseen by Corliss.
On other issues brought up at the meeting, Corliss:
l Said the city will soon be facing key decisions about how it will grow west of the South Lawrence Trafficway and south of the Wakarusa River. Corliss has said the city needs to do better at getting ahead of growth in those areas by planning where major roads will go, where parks will be and determining other key issues before development pressures mount.
"The commission will get to wrestle with those issues," Corliss said. "I don't know if I'm going to wrestle with them or just be the referee or maybe a WWF-type of announcer."
l Expounded on what he's looking for in a new planning director.
"We need a strong manager who knows how to manage people and projects," Corliss said. "We probably don't want someone who loves the technical skills of planning as opposed to managing projects and timelines."
Some audience members, though, urged Corliss to also look for a big-picture thinker.
"The one piece that I didn't hear was vision," said Frank Male, an owner of Lawrence Landscaping and a former planning commissioner. "I think we really need to have someone with vision. We really should already have the area south of the Wakarusa planned by now."
l Made his strongest statements yet that he thinks Census Bureau estimates that show Lawrence's population has been essentially stagnant the last five years are wrong.
"I think Lawrence is going to continue to grow," Corliss said. "I don't know what the Census Bureau was drinking. Everything I know about Lawrence and Northeast Kansas tells me that Lawrence is going to continue to grow."