It is one thing to wish that a host of new retailers will come to Lawrence. It is another thing for the city or the local chamber of commerce to recruit them to come to Lawrence.
The city’s Retail Task Force on Tuesday balked at the idea of creating a formal program to recruit new retailers to the city. Instead, the task force will recommend that the city collect data on the types of sales the city may be losing to other communities, but said that data primarily should be used to persuade existing retailers to expand.
“I’m not comfortable with the idea of the city getting into the recruiting business,” said Earl Reineman, a task force member and executive with Weaver’s Department Store. “As a retailer, it is one thing to compete with the stores that are already out there or with the stores in Topeka or Kansas City or anybody who is selling online. But it becomes a slippery slope if you feel like you are competing with your own city or chamber of commerce.”
The idea of whether to create a recruitment program was one of the final ones the city’s task force had left to decide before forwarding its report to the City Commission.
A draft version of the report had recommended the city explore creating a new position at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce that would be responsible for spurring retail business. The report suggested working with existing businesses to expand to fill retail gaps in the city would be the top priority. But the report also said that if existing retailers weren’t able or willing to fill the gaps, the city or chamber should actively recruit new retailers to the city.
The task force on Tuesday removed that language from the document after Reineman expressed concerns about how the city or chamber would decide whether the city was undeserved to the point that a retailer should be recruited. He also expressed concerns that recruitment of outside retailers could lead to more incentives being offered to retailers.
“I think if we can do a better job of creating primary jobs, the retail businesses will follow,” Reineman said.
Other task force members agreed to take out the recruitment language from the report, but said the city still needs to conduct a study — either by city staff or by a consultant — to determine what type of shopping Lawrence residents currently are doing out of town.
“We need data, we need some information to really understand what is going on with our community,” said City Commissioner Rob Chestnut, who chairs the task force.
The task force will meet again in January to perhaps finalize the report and send it to the City Commission.