A recent $500,000 gift to Kansas University’s School of Engineering is more than just a nice boost to the university’s fundraising efforts.
It also should be a reminder to local economic development leaders of an emerging opportunity to create high-quality, high-paying jobs for our community.
The Burns & McDonnell Foundation recently gave $500,000 to help the engineering school recruit students, add faculty, and increase classroom and lab space. The gift is just one of many the engineering school has received in recent years. This interest in the school comes at the same time several state leaders are pushing hard to make the attraction and retention of engineering firms a cornerstone of the state’s economic development strategy.
It is a wise course for the state. Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure will be a major priority for the next generation. Such rebuilding will increase the need for engineers. The state’s location in the heartland makes this a great spot for engineering firms to establish a home base. Kansas City already has proven engineering firms can thrive here by serving as the home of some of the larger engineering firms in the world.
Lawrence leaders now need to position the city to capitalize on this movement. Lawrence has an atmosphere that is naturally attractive for creative people and already is having success attracting those creative people in the bioscience arena. Those efforts obviously should continue and intensify. Attracting the creative minds in the engineering field may well be the next goal.
The effort should not stop there. Community leaders need to develop a strategy that sells Lawrence as the place for creative business professionals of all types: architects, publishers, designers, programmers and others. For Lawrence’s economy to experience the growth that it badly needs, it will take a community initiative. The community needs an idea — a vision — that can draw broad enthusiasm and support.
Lawrence ought to set a goal of becoming the Creative Capital of the Great Plains. It is an economic development strategy that capitalizes on our educational strengths, our workforce and our spirit.
Now is the time for our community leaders to come up with a creative plan to make it happen.