The biggest Lawrence event in the world of business in 2013 actually may be grounded in the world of education.
Greg Williams, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, thinks 2013 is the year construction will begin on a new community college campus in Lawrence that would begin offering technical and vocational training for the area’s workforce.
“We’re getting good feedback not only from the community colleges in the region, but really from the businesses in the region,” Williams said. “They are doing backflips asking us to make this deal happen.
“I haven’t talked to anybody — blue collar, white collar, East Lawrence, west Lawrence — who doesn’t want this project to happen.”
Williams confirmed that the Chamber of Commerce has been in discussion with the Lawrence Public School District about how the district and the community could partner on ways to provide more workforce training in the region.
District officials in December said they had studied ideas for partnering with community colleges to offer programs in health sciences, machine technology, computer networking, and commercial construction, in addition to the technical training the district already offers. District officials have projected about $5.7 million of a $92.5 million spring bond issue could be devoted to technical education.
Williams said the community should think large when it comes to technical training. He believes the community could play host to a new facility that could house programs taught by up to three different community colleges.
“If we get our way, what I envision is a new campus, probably a newly-constructed technical training campus that is comprised of a consortium of community college leadership,” Williams said.
Rick Doll, superintendent for the school district, has said the district is in negotiations with Johnson County, Kansas City and Neosho County community colleges, and that plans have focused on the district’s Community Connections Center, 2600 W. 25th Street.
Williams was an economic development leader in Springfield, Mo. when Ozarks Technical Community College began seeing exponential growth.
When that college, which was formed by 14 area schools districts in and near Springfield, began classes in 1991, it had about 1,200 students, according to information the college’s Web site. Now, it has about 15,000 students and more than 50 degrees or program offerings.
Williams said his plan does not currently envision the need to ask for any tax increases to fund the project. He thinks multiple public and private partners could be involved in the project.
“I think there is a real marriage we can talk about with the public school system,” Williams said. “And the appetite for these community colleges to be here is so strong.”
Other issues that Williams expects for the business community in 2013 include:
• A decision on whether to begin a private-fundraising campaign for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. Williams said the chamber’s board of directors has agreed to hire a consulting firm that will assess the market’s potential for what could be a five-year, multimillion-dollar capital campaign. The consultant is expected to deliver a report to chamber leaders in the first quarter of 2013.
• The beginning of a study to identify new sites that could accommodate future industrial development. Williams said plans to convert the former Farmland Industries property into a new business park in eastern Lawrence, will help attract some new industry to the area. But he said the community still will be short of available industrial sites to show businesses, even when that approximately 400-acre project comes on line.
“Sites near I-70 are going to be our focus, to be frank,” Williams said.
Any new areas for industrial development will have to go through the city and county’s planning and zoning process, but Williams said he wants the chamber actively involved in identifying areas that will appeal to businesses.
Journal-World reporter Peter Hancock contributed information to this report.