Archive for Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lawrence chamber president leaving for job in Steamboat Springs

July 28, 2011, 10:25 a.m. Updated July 28, 2011, 5:28 p.m.


Winter doesn’t sound too bad right about now.

Tom Kern, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, announced Thursday that he’s resigning his post in late-September to take a similar position in Colorado with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Tom Kern

Tom Kern

“This was not an easy decision for us to make,” Kern said of him and his wife, Rosie. “But we’re both really active winter sports enthusiasts. We actually like the winter. That was a compelling issue for us.”

Kern has been a regular visitor to Steamboat Springs since 1973, and until a few years ago owned a condominium in the community.

“I wasn’t out looking for a job,” Kern said. “This was an opportunity given to me by an acquaintance I know in Steamboat.”

Kern, 60, has been the top executive at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce for the past three years. He came to Lawrence from Virginia after serving as the chief operating officer for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce in suburban Washington, D.C. He has about 20 years of chamber experience in Virginia and Ohio, in addition to having served as a city manager and former county commissioner in his native Michigan.

“He is a terrific leader,” said Matt Hoy, a chamber board member and the immediate past chair of the chamber. “He has great organizational skills, great personal skills, a strong financial acumen, and a depth of experience in so many areas.”

Board Chair Cindy Yulich also praised Kern and said that she would bring together the chamber’s board of directors next week to begin crafting a plan to name an interim leader and develop the process for finding a replacement.

“This all was very much a surprise to us,” Yulich said.

Kern’s last day will be Sept. 23. Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Dever was on the search committee that recommended Kern three years ago. He said the next leader of the chamber — which serves as the city’s lead economic development recruiter — will have to possess many traits.

“I think we need to find somebody who understands the way our community operates both politically and technically,” Dever said. “I think we need to find somebody who is going to be ready to run right out of the gates. We don’t have any time to lose. We don’t have any extra breathing room on our economic development efforts.”

During his tenure, Kern said he believes the community has made progress in increasing the bioscience component of its economy, particularly with the creation of a new West Campus incubator facility and Deciphera Pharmaceuticals’ expanded presence in Downtown Lawrence.

But Kern said he hopes that the community does continue to work on compromising and building consensus on key issues.

“One of the things I love about Lawrence is how passionate the people are,” Kern said. “But sometimes one of the things I wonder about is how passionate the people are. It has a good side and a bad side to it.”

Yulich said she believed Kern was making progress in helping foster conversations between groups that sometimes have competing interests. She said she hopes the next chamber leader will continue in that direction.

“I think he challenged us to think a little bit differently,” Yulich said. “I don’t think he accomplished everything he wanted to in that area. I think he found us challenging, quite frankly.

“But I think it is going to be very important as we look to the next decade that we find a better way as a community to work together collaboratively.”

Kern is the third person to hold the top spot at the Lawrence chamber since 1999, when longtime chamber executive Gary Toebben left the organization.

In Steamboat Springs, Kern will be the top chamber executive in a town of about 10,000 residents, although it often swells to several times that size because of a vibrant tourism industry.


youngjayhawk 6 years, 7 months ago

Probably tired of the relentless summer heat in Kansas; cooler temps in Colorado beckon!

devobrun 6 years, 7 months ago

Except about 5,700 feet. Average high temp in July (the hottest month) is 82 with an average low of around 40. And 10,000 people in town and 19,000 in the county. No university. Skiing, back country hiking

Yep consumer1, I'd say it's about like Lawrence?

Woodstein 6 years, 7 months ago

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce head job is just becoming a pass-through career stop anymore. For CoC to be effective in the future, the board needs to 'recruit' somebody with strong local ties that wants to be here for a long while, or else they'll continue to be a revolving door for other's career aspirations.

DCJayhawk45 6 years, 7 months ago

Consumer1 ... Steamboat is not that different from Lawrence ...


I lived in Lawrence for three years while attending KU. Then I graduated and went to work for the Steamboat paper for two years.

Trust me. The difference is much, much more than just location or elevation. The culture, the way of life, the people, the outdoors, the businesses, etc. I didn't enjoy living in Lawrence very much for my own reasons, but I adored Steamboat and try to go back every year for vacation. Lawrence is a college town, Steamboat is not. Steamboat is a cowtown-slash-ski town, where you get a unique mix of ranchers, skiiers and riders, hippies, richie richies, and tourists. Because Steamboat is so dependent on the tourism industry and the outdoors and is in the midst of dealing with very specific issues related to the combination of tourism-dependent revenues, the recession and weather that affects the ski area and the valley, Kern will have very different challenges to deal with in his new position.

I wish him the very best of luck, and am excited to see what he'll bring to one of my favorite places in the country.

DCJayhawk45 6 years, 7 months ago

Oh, and here's more specific information from ... where else ... the Steamboat Pilot and Today (which happens to be owned by the World Company).

"Lawrence is a city of about 100,000 located 41 miles west of Kansas City. It is home to a highly-educated work force due in part to the presence of the University of Kansas, with more than 28,000 students. Lawrence also is home to large medical facilities.

Almost 12,000 members of the 2010 workforce of 47,780 in Lawrence were employed in educational services. Unemployment in Lawrence in April was 5.5 percent compared to about 11 percent in Steamboat Springs."

Steamboat Springs has roughly 1/10th the population of Lawrence, with around 10,000 year-round residents. One of the town's major employers is the Steamboat Ski Area.

I hope I've more than well enough made my point and refuted Consumer1 :)

jayhawk83 6 years, 7 months ago

Tom and Rosie will be missed. He did a nice job of working to bring all the different interests together to move Lawrence forward. In doing so, he was criticized by virtually every group. That goes with the job but Lawrence has a way of being more deeply and personally critical. I think Tom's early departure will not make it easier to get the next President signed up.

Steamboat is attractive for sure, but if Tom and Rosie were really feeling welcome here I suspect they would just be visiting there and not relocating.

Sean Williams 6 years, 7 months ago

Kern was a committed and creative man who seemed to understand politics, business, and education. His efforts at merging the town gown diversity was wise perception and adroitly adapted, although there's still a ways to go. I imagine he may have been frustrated with how difficult it is to attract employers here -- there are so many who fight the very things he was hired to do. They have been at it longer and are persistent and self perpetuating.

Remember, it's harder to get the wheels of progress going than it is to put a stick in their spokes. Proactive, consensual planning seems to have dwindled since Buford Watson died decades ago.

Kookamooka 6 years, 7 months ago

Anybody else getting a little worried about the loss of the Chamber President AND the Director of Economic Development for the city? Hmmmmm.

no_thanks 6 years, 7 months ago

Not to mention the Director of Economic Development's predecessor, who left after only a few years on the job. Frankly, the loss of these individuals, in my opinion, tell us all we need to know about why the Lawrence economy is suffering.

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