City commission race 2007
City commission race
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- More on the 2007 City Commission race Â»
How to attract new companies to town is creating disagreement among the six candidates seeking a seat on the Lawrence City Commission.
In a questionnaire sent out by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, candidates clashed on whether the chamber should be the lead agency to attract new businesses, whether the city should hire a new economic development planner, and how tax abatements and other incentives should be used.
The chamber currently receives city and county funding to market the community to potential employers. Here's a look at what each candidate said about economic development issues.
Bush called the current City Commission the "weakest link" in the community's economic development partnership.
Specifically, he said it was inappropriate for commissioners earlier this month to express concerns about using tax abatements to attract new companies at a meeting that included a representative from API Foils, an East Hills Business Park company that is seeking an abatement to expand. The city ultimately approved the abatement, but Bush said the conversation created a poor business image for the community.
"Many companies will not even consider Lawrence because of this present commission's negative attitude to economic development," Bush said.
Bush said he thought the use of incentives to attract new businesses was "vital."
Chestnut said the current City Commission has not fostered a level of trust with the chamber or the county in economic development matters. He said the creation of a new economic development planner position in City Hall communicates a lack of trust toward the chamber and will confuse potential employers considering Lawrence.
He also cited the recent API Foils meeting as an example of the city sending an "unclear message" about the city's commitment to the company.
Chestnut, who previously worked for API Foils, said incentives such as tax abatements should be among tools the city uses, but the city must make sure that such incentives "pay for themselves." The city could determine that by conducting thorough cost-benefit analyses.
Dever said the City Commission needs to create a sense of urgency about economic development.
"I do not believe we as a community are in a position to say 'no' to any potential employer," Dever said.
Dever also said he was "uncertain" whether the new economic development planner was the best use of the city's limited resources.
He said the community needs to expand the list of incentives it can offer companies. One example would be the creation of a technology zone near downtown. Such a zone could include small office suites that offer free Internet service and discounts on utility bills and other city services.
Highberger, an incumbent commissioner, said the new economic development planner position would put the city in a better position to more "wisely allocate its economic development resources and to evaluate individual projects."
Highberger said he doesn't particularly like economic development incentives, but realizes it is unrealistic to do without them. He said anytime one is offered it should be for a company that is creating jobs that pay above the state average for an applicable job.
Maynard-Moody said the results of the current economic development partnership among the city, county and chamber have been "somewhat disappointing." She said the city should consider using someone other than the chamber to provide economic development services to the community.
"The contract should be opened to bidding to a wider range of sources qualified to do the job," Maynard-Moody said.
She also said the city's job growth rates paralleled state and national averages. She said it was unlikely that would ever change. She said candidates who said otherwise were "misleading the public."
Schauner, an incumbent commissioner, said Lawrence has been "behind the curve" on economic development issues for more than 20 years because the focus has been on residential growth.
He said the community needs to focus on attracting jobs that pay a wage to allow someone to buy a house in the city.
To offer tax abatements to companies that do not pay such wages would be unwise, he said.