The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Friday at the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive.
The keynote speaker will be Billy Tubbs, former head basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma and current athletic director at Lamar University.
The event also will feature several local business and civic awards.
A close loss, of all things, boosted the spirits of Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Tom Kern in this tough year.
In late 2009, Lawrence was among the final four communities in the running for a manufacturing plant that would produce massive wind turbines and add 250 to 350 jobs in the city. The German company in November eliminated Lawrence from consideration, but Kern this week said the process was a positive sign nonetheless.
“We were really competitive, and that hasn’t happened for a while,” said Kern, who is entering his second year as the chamber’s top executive.
As chamber members gather tonight Friday night for the organization’s annual meeting, Kern is touting a newfound coming together of elected officials and community leaders on economic development issues.
Case in point: When the community was competing for the wind turbine plant, leaders had to come together to create a plan to use 87 acres of industrially zoned ground just east of East Hills Business Park. The site needs about 7 feet of fill dirt to address drainage issues. During a tight budget, finding public money for the project could be difficult.
But Kern said his office and others were successful in striking a deal with Douglas County Development Inc. to fund the site work. DCDI recently sold its long vacant “spec building” in East Hills to Kansas University. DCDI, Kern said, has agreed to use the proceeds from that sale to fund the site work.
In addition, the dirt for the site work would come from hilly property just west of the East Hills Business Park. By flattening that hill, a 30-acre industrial site would be created that could be marketed to other companies. Kern said even though the city is no longer in the running for the wind turbine plant, DCDI is still committed to doing the site work project. Kern said that’s positive because it will give the community two new industrial sites ready to build upon.
Kern also is lauding other higher profile efforts, such as recent work to build a new biosciences incubator on KU’s West Campus, and the recent city/county purchase of a West Lawrence laboratory building to house more mature bioscience companies.
He said Lawrence is among the final four sites under consideration for a bioscience project, which he could not give details about.
“We’re going to hit on one of these,” Kern said of recent attraction efforts. “We’re not going to win them all, but we’re not going to lose them all either.”
Kern said the projects are evidence that the community now has a definite economic development focus on the biosciences arena. But he also said the city — especially with its connection to Interstate 70 — still needs to be open to light manufacturing and distribution opportunities that come the city’s way.
“We have our focus, but we’re still going to recruit to our geographic strengths,” Kern said.