Age: 37 Address: 1616 N.H. Family: Wife, Hannah; one son, 12, although another son died nearly five years ago as the result of a horseback accident. Substantial business interests: Cromwell and his wife list ownership of Cromwell Environmental as their only business or investment interest. Cromwell also serves as a director of the non-profit Lawrence Community Mercantile.
The Lawrence City Commission elections are April 7. Eight candidates are vying for three at-large spots on the commission. The candidates are: Mike Amyx, a downtown barber shop owner; Price Banks, a Lawrence attorney; James Bush, a sales and marketing professional for Maceli’s; Dennis Constance, a custodial supervisor at Kansas University; Aron Cromwell, the owner of a Lawrence-based environmental consulting firm; Lance Johnson, the owner of a Lawrence-based civil engineering firm; Tom Johnson, the student adviser and general manager of KJHK, a KU radio station; and Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.
Aron Cromwell spent his youth with the eyes of Lawrence upon him — sort of.
He grew up in Overland Park, that Johnson County growth machine that Lawrence residents have long gazed eastward at — some longingly, some derisively.
So, among the eight candidates running for the Lawrence City Commission, Cromwell may well be the Johnson County expert. But don’t expect his campaign platform to be built with planks calling for more malls or expansive suburbs.
Instead, his Johnson County wisdom is a bit different.
“What I saw growing up there was that there was a lot of growth, and not all of it was good,” Cromwell said. “The other thing I saw is that Johnson County is very good at what it does.
“I have said many times that Lawrence will never be better at being Johnson County than Johnson County is. They’ve got that down.”
But Cromwell — who owns an environmental consulting firm in downtown — said he’s not an anti-growth candidate. He just wants a different type of growth.
“I’m not opposed to growth,” Cromwell said. “I’m opposed to losing our character.”
A changed world
For Cromwell, character was the first thing he noticed about Lawrence. As a young boy — he grew up in a divorced family with a mother who was an administrative assistant and a father who was a sociology professor — Cromwell came often to Lawrence.
“I could see even then that Lawrence had more of a sense of a community than we did,” Cromwell said.
He moved to the city in 1990 to attend Kansas University, where he earned a degree in biology. Cromwell, 37, found the city to his liking. It accommodated his love of outdoor activities — everything from hiking to kayaking — and his interest in environmental issues.
Cromwell’s business — Cromwell Environmental, which employs nine people — pays its bills by doing environmental assessments for lead, mold and other hazards on a variety of property across the country. But the business’ “passion,” he said, is promoting solar energy solutions — solar hot water heaters or solar electricity generating systems — for homes and businesses.
Except for a few months where he and his wife — longtime townie Hannah Fritzel — lived in Oregon, he’s called Lawrence home.
“I travel to a lot of communities as part of my work, and Lawrence is very unique,” Cromwell said. “When I think of Lawrence, I get a picture in my head of downtown, of our beautiful universities, of the independent stores, biking and walking on the levee.”
But lately the picture has gotten blurred around the edges, Cromwell said.
“I’ve seen a lot of the development that has occurred in West Lawrence, a lot of the parks for those developments have been left off to the detriment of the citizens who live out west,” Cromwell said. “That is an example of growth without really a vision for the future.”
But the biggest change, Cromwell believes, has come in Lawrence’s job scene, where he thinks the community has failed to recognize a paradigm shift.
“I think we’re finally seeing the fallout from the fact the world changed and we didn’t change with it,” Cromwell said.
Specifically, Cromwell said he thinks the economy with its rapid forms of communication has shifted to favor smaller businesses over larger companies.
“The large companies are suffering very badly because they can’t change as quickly as a small company can,” Cromwell said. “If you can’t change quickly as a small company, you will be out of business quickly. There is more evolutionary pressure on them.”
Getting Lawrence’s economic development strategies in line with what he believes is the new economic paradigm is a major priority for Cromwell.
Instead of spending much effort to attract new light industrial plants or other similar users to the “outskirts of town,” Cromwell said he wants the city to become more focused on developing programs for new start-up businesses. He said there’s great potential to partner with KU on businesses that spin out of university research. But he also he thinks the community should work to attract service businesses that would benefit from Lawrence’s intellectual capital.
“I would love to see more money flowing into our town from outside,” Cromwell said. “I would love to see companies in Kansas City doing business with lawyers and architecture firms in Lawrence because they know that is where the brains are.”
In other issues, Cromwell said:
• He does not want people to pay more in property taxes than they did a year ago, but he would consider raising the city’s property tax rate to compensate for declining real estate values.
• He would attempt to fund social service agencies at the same level of funding they currently receive. He said he also would urge citizens to double their private contributions to social service agencies.
“I think it is important to put out that call,” Cromwell said. “We’re in a crisis, and a crisis can build character. It will build character. What type of character is the question.”