It's time for a meeting of the minds.
Mike Dever, the top vote-getter in Tuesday's City Commission election, said city commissioners, Douglas County commissioners and leaders with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce need to meet soon to discuss ways to boost economic development.
"We need to figure out how to prime our economic development engine and get it running down the road," Dever said.
Dever said he wants to ensure that the city, county and chamber - the three groups that provide funding for economic development operations - believe that the proper system is in place to attract jobs. He said the three must discuss what each can do better. He also said he would like the Lawrence-Douglas County Economic Development Board to become more prominent and meet more often.
Once everyone is on the same page, Dever said, clear goals must be set, with an expectation that they'll be met.
"I'm big on demanding accountability," Dever said.
Becoming more proactive
Job creation efforts became a major issue in the campaign as Dever and second-place finisher Rob Chestnut frequently pointed to statistics that Lawrence had lost jobs in the past five years. Unemployment rates in Lawrence have been steady or declining during that time period, but candidates suggested that was a reflection of more commuters living in Lawrence rather than more jobs available in the city. Statistics from the Kansas Department of Labor showed that for a five-year period ending in 2006 that Douglas County lost about 900 jobs.
Chestnut said he also wanted to meet with the economic development partners. He said the community needs to become more proactive in spreading its message to potential employers.
"It will mean reaching out to a lot more people outside of the community," he said. "It will be about putting in a whole lot of effort. It will be a lot like campaigning."
Commissioner Boog Highberger, who won a second term with a third-place finish, said he wanted to make sure that economic development efforts did not overlook helping existing small businesses. He said he would like economic development leaders to explore ways to help small businesses obtain affordable health insurance for employees.
The two incumbent commissioners who were not up for re-election - Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Sue Hack, who is expected to become the next mayor when Amyx's one-year term expires next week - are on board with an agenda that has a heavy emphasis on jobs.
Hack - who works part-time for the Chamber of Commerce as its director of Leadership Lawrence - said the areas of emphasis need to be on creating more sites suitable for business park development, and improving Lawrence's image as a good place to do business.
"I know some people do not believe that we have a reputation problem, but I know we're not looked upon very favorably by some decision makers who could bring jobs to this community," Hack said.
Changing a reputation
Hack said the community had a reputation of making too many changes to projects late in the approval process. Consequently, she said, the approval process often is viewed as taking too long.
Efforts undertaken by the current commission to merge the Neighborhood Resources Department with the Planning Department should help streamline the development review process, she said. But Hack said it would be important to convince Lawrence residents that a speedier process doesn't mean the community is lowering its standards.
"I want to assure people that there is nothing wrong with high standards," Hack said. "We're not going to pave over Lawrence, like I've heard some people say. What we're going to do is do everything we can within our own high standards to eliminate this reputation that we have with some businesses."
Hack also said she thought the new commission would continue the efforts of the current commission to buy the vacant Farmland Industries plant on East 23rd Street to redevelop into a business center.
Lavern Squier, chamber president, said his organization was eager to have the meeting.
"We're definitely going to talk about the attitude and aggressiveness that we exhibit and pronounce to the world," Squier said. "We have got to be very firm about our convictions here."