The idea of creating an economic development consortium is an intriguing possibility for Lawrence and Douglas County.
City and county governments, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and Kansas University already work together on many major economic development projects. Formalizing the cooperation among those groups almost certainly would help the community present more compelling proposals for new and expanding businesses to build their operations in Lawrence.
Government bodies most often have gotten involved in economic development when companies are seeking various tax incentives, but that function has become less important since Kansas dropped its taxes on business machinery and equipment. Now, the city and county have moved to other ways of encouraging business development. The recent commitment of $1 million from both the city and county to support expansion of a life science and technology incubator building in west Lawrence is a good example of how those governments are helping prime the economic development pump.
That kind of investment on behalf of local taxpayers certainly earns the city and county a place at the economic development table. The opportunities to link business opportunities to research and development at KU makes the university a natural partner in such efforts. The Chamber of Commerce, the traditional center of the city’s economic development effort, also reportedly has floated the idea of adding some new elements to that effort, perhaps including the creation of a chamber-city-county-KU consortium.
The chamber, which is in a significant transition of its own, is smart to consider additional options. As they work to fill two key positions in their organization — the CEO and economic development jobs — chamber leaders need to consider exactly what role the chamber wants to, or should, play in the city’s overall eco devo strategy.
As some leaders envision it, a new consortium not only would facilitate cooperation on economic development but also would have some money to help push those efforts forward. Topeka and other communities have used new sales taxes to fund similar efforts. No one has proposed that for Lawrence — yet — but some funding mechanism may be needed to make the community more competitive.
The good news is that local officials are looking at some new strategies. Doing things the same old way hasn’t been good enough to make Lawrence a strong player in the increasingly competitive economic development game.