A recent news story in the Journal-World told of a study initiated by Lawrence city commissioners and staffers to learn what other Big 12 and area cities are doing to attract new jobs and new businesses to their communities.
Based on their reaction to the findings of this study, Lawrence officials either have been in the dark for some time or have not paid attention to the growing concern of many local residents about the city's economic health.
Or maybe it's a bad case of complacency or arrogance, which seems to be a growing disease among many in Lawrence and on the Kansas University campus.
Mike Amyx, a top-flight city commissioner and a former mayor reacted to the survey by saying, "It seems to me that we're kind of behind the times." Mayor Sue Hack said Lawrence likely will continue to lag other cities until the community figures out how to make the process of attracting companies less political. She added that the city needs new policies that set clear guidelines about when companies should receive tax abatements or other types of incentives, rather than relying so much on city commissioners' opinions.
It shouldn't have taken a hastily arranged study for city officials to realize just how far behind Lawrence is in the arena of attracting new industry, businesses and jobs.
Due to the actions and policies of a relative handful of city commissioners and city hall staffers in recent years, Lawrence - which for many years was looked to as a model in sound growth - now is stuck in idle while other cities are making great strides.
The policies of these past elected commissioners, with the involvement of hand-picked individuals serving on various boards and commissions, has reinforced the belief and reality that Lawrence is one of the nation's most difficult and unfriendly cities in which to locate or build a new business. Lawrence's reputation is bad.
In the years following the end of World War II, Lawrence enjoyed excellent growth. Then complacency set in. Perhaps city leaders became cocky and didn't believe that any group dedicated to stopping growth could bring the city to its knees. They were mistaken, and Lawrence has learned a hard lesson that once momentum has been stopped, it is twice as hard to restart the engine and overcome inertia. Plus, the psyche of the city in terms of having a "can-do" positive outlook and attitude has been battered.
Lawrence has many needs if it is to take advantage of its numerous opportunities, but its bank account is almost empty. The city is not generating the new taxes needed to pay for long-overdue maintenance of city infrastructure, for city services, for recreational facilities and for developments that will insure a vigorous, healthy city in the years ahead. Overtaxed homeowners are carrying far too much of the burden.
Amyx certainly is aware of Lawrence's current condition and how it got this way. So is Hack. Understanding how we got into this fix is one thing. Changing it is another. It is going to be tough to break out of the mindset of many of the community's policymakers.
Lawrence has every opportunity to be a model city in every respect and this should be the goal of our elected officials. For years, this writer has suggested Lawrence's goal should be to be "America's finest university city." It's possible, but to do so is going to take courage, vision and hard work. Does Lawrence have the leaders it needs to achieve this worthy goal?
More studies, special commissions, costly consultants offering advice, and public meetings to take the community's temperature are not going to get the job done. It will take true leaders with the support of forward-looking residents.