Nearly nine months after its president and CEO left for a new job in Colorado, leaders with the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce said they are getting closer to hiring his replacement. John Ross, chair of the chamber’s board of directors, confirmed that chamber leaders will conduct interviews with several candidates next week.
“It would be nice to have somebody in place by the end of the second quarter,” Ross said.
Sources have told the Journal-World that six to eight candidates have made the first round of cuts. Sources also said that three current Lawrence residents with a mix of experience with chamber or government affairs are among the finalists.
Ross didn’t comment on any of the finalists, but said the chamber must find a leader who understands the importance of attracting primary jobs to the community.
“We have some pretty stiff competition surrounding us,” Ross said. “For us to be successful in the future, it will take people who are willing to explore creative ways to make Lawrence attractive. Lawrence is attractive all by itself, but we are moving into new times.”
The chamber’s search for a top executive comes at a time when there have been discussions about revamping how the community works to attract new companies and jobs to the community. Currently the chamber receives funding from the city, the county and its membership to run an economic development marketing program.
New Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm said he believes there will be significant discussion over the next 12 months of creating a new economic development “consortium” made up of leaders from the city, the county, the chamber and Kansas University. The new consortium would be envisioned to have more authority over economic development matters — especially the offering of certain incentives to interested companies — than the chamber currently has.
Ross said he is open to discussing how the chamber can be involved in new economic development efforts.
“There is a renewed vigor from the city and the county on economic development and from the chamber too,” Ross said. “A change in leadership like we’re going through often gives you a chance to step back and ask how can we do this better?”
Cindy Yulich, chair of the chamber’s search committee, didn’t return phone calls for this article. But she said in a written message to chamber members that the committee is “very pleased with the caliber of candidates.” She said the committee plans to bring back a limited number of candidates to “meet the full chamber board, membership, staff and the community.”
The chamber is searching for a replacement for Tom Kern, who announced in July that he was leaving the chamber to take a similar position in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Hank Booth has been serving as the interim chamber president and CEO. He previously has said he is not a candidate for the open position.