Address: 1730 Bobwhite Drive
Family: Wife, Jennifer; three children, ages 8, 6 and 1.
Occupation: Owner of civil engineering firm
Substantial business interests: Johnson lists ownership interests in the Peridian Group, where he serves as president of the corporation. He also lists an ownership interest in 12 separate real estate investment companies. His holdings also include an ownership interest in JDC Construction, and Blue Sky Mortgage Co. In addition to his home, Johnson also owns two vacant lots in the 900 block of Robinson Court, two investment properties in the 4900 block of Stoneback Drive, one investment property in 2400 block of Princeton Boulevard, one investment property in the 700 block of Arkansas, and one investment property in the 1500 block of Legend Trail. He also owns a minority interest in the Lawrence-based company Hiper Technology.
Lance Johnson remembers the celebrations growing up in Hays.
There, where the wind blows strong and the water runs weak, you didn’t have to win a national championship to get the locals excited. In Hays, the community scorecard was a bit broader than in Lawrence.
“When a community like Hays got something new, it was a big deal,” Johnson said. “When we got an Applebee’s, it was a big deal. It was something we celebrated.”
That leaves Johnson — who is one of eight candidates running for Lawrence City Commission — sounding an unfamiliar campaign theme in these parts: In at least one way, he wants Lawrence to be a little bit more like western Kansas.
“Growing up out there gave me a definite appreciation for jobs and opportunities,” Johnson said. “We didn’t have a major metro area nearby like Lawrence does to provide jobs. If somebody moved to Hays, they were moving there to work there.”
Johnson — who is in the growth business daily as the owner of a civil engineering firm that specializes in development plans — thinks Lawrence has fallen into a trap when it comes to understanding how a community grows.
“When I first moved here, I was guilty for awhile of thinking that the businesses were just here,” Johnson said. “But one of the main reasons I’m running is that I think we need to do a better job of selling ourselves.
“I’m convinced that you can never take for granted opportunities, and I think Lawrence has done some of that.”
At the dinner table
The talk of opportunity — or the lack thereof — was a frequent topic of conversation around the Johnson dinner table growing up. Johnson’s father owned an asphalt and concrete paving company in Hays.
“A lot of the dinner conversation was about whether we got a bid or lost a bid,” Johnson said. “I learned early on that you always have to be looking for opportunities. I remember him having to lay people off when work was slow.”
As he got older, Johnson ended up getting an even closer view of the process. As a teenager he worked for his father’s company, running equipment that ranged from a cement truck to a simple shovel.
“I loved being out on a project, seeing the equipment moving,” Johnson said. “You can touch it and feel it.”
Johnson, 38, has followed in his father’s footsteps as an entrepreneur. Well, sort of. His early experiences did convince him that his business shouldn’t involve some types of work.
“Pouring concrete is probably one of the toughest jobs you will ever want to do,” Johnson said.
Since 1998, Johnson — who has both an undergraduate and master’s degree in engineering from Kansas University — has been an owner of The Peridian Group, a Lawrence-based civil engineering firm that employs 21 people. The firm designs roads, sewer systems, subdivisions and other similar pieces of infrastructure for developers and municipalities.
The business has given Johnson the opportunity to deal directly with City Hall. It is not uncommon for his company to bid on some city projects or to represent developers who are seeking approval from city commissioners. Johnson said he will abstain from votes where his company is competing for a city job or representing a client before the City Commission.
But the job has helped him form opinions on how the city conducts business, especially when it comes to welcoming new business.
“I think we have a pretty good process, but I think politics ends up hijacking the process,” Johnson said. “When a project is taken into the city, there is almost an immediate reaction of why this isn’t good enough, instead of how we can make this work for the city.”
Johnson said he intends to spend about 90 percent of his time on the campaign trail talking about the need for job creation. He’s put together a five-point plan for attracting new jobs to the community.
The plan includes creating a more welcoming tone at City Hall, offering incentives to companies with growth potential, building a better working relationship with KU, ensuring that the infrastructure for growth is in place, and working to attract companies that have sustainable business and environmental practices.
Johnson said without job growth, he fears the community will begin pushing residents away because homeowners will be paying for too much of the services the city provides.
“We’re already too much of a bedroom community,” Johnson said. “Too much of our tax base relies on homeownership. We have to shift some of that over to business and industry.”
In other issues, Johnson said:
• He could not rule out increasing tax rates to make up for gaps in the city’s budget.
• He believes cuts to some social service programs and some city services will be necessary, unless residents agree to some sort of tax increase.
“Would the community support raising taxes to avoid some of these cuts?” Johnson asked. “I don’t know. Could I support that? Maybe, but I want to hear from the citizens first.”
— City reporter Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362. Visit his Town Talk blog at LJWorld.com/weblogs/town_talk/