The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has hired a consulting firm to conduct what is expected to be at least a four-month search for a new president and CEO.
But chamber leaders do have an idea of what they’re looking for — a good Midwesterner who can help the community understand why it needs to raise more money for economic development efforts.
Cindy Yulich, chair of the chamber’s search committee, said other communities have dedicated sales taxes or endowment-like fundraising efforts that support economic development projects. More frequently, Lawrence finds itself competing against those communities to land projects.
“We’re not going to be as successful as we could be until we have a sustained source of income to support economic development,” Yulich said. “That is part of the infrastructure we need. We have to find somebody who can communicate the need to have that sustained funding source.”
The chamber’s board of directors on Thursday agreed to contract with Waverly Partners, a search firm that specializes in executive searches. Lawrence resident Debbie Galbraith, a Waverly consultant, will lead the search.
Yulich said the search firm will conduct interviews with chamber members, city and county officials and other stakeholders to get a better idea of the qualities the organization is seeking in a new leader. But Yulich said the chamber’s board has asked the firm to begin its search by focusing on candidates from Kansas or an adjacent state.
The group is more split on whether candidates should have experience in leading a chamber of commerce. When former president and CEO Tom Kern announced his resignation in July — to take a similar job in Steamboat Springs, Colo. — chamber board members said they would want to consider placing more emphasis on candidates who had a strong connection to Lawrence rather than significant chamber of experience.
On Thursday, Yulich said the chamber board is open to a variety of candidates.
“We’re going to look for the best candidate, and maybe that person will have Douglas County DNA,” Yulich said. “Unfortunately the average tenure of a chamber CEO nationwide is 3.5 to 5 years. So having somebody with Douglas County experience could have a lot of upsides, but we don’t want to eliminate any possibilities.”
The chamber also has to fill its position of senior vice president of economic development, after Beth Johnson announced she will leave the Lawrence chamber to take a similar position in Overland Park.
Johnson will leave the chamber in early February, and Yulich said the chamber board is still formulating its plan for filling that position on an interim basis. But Yulich said it is likely that the chamber will not seek to select Johnson’s successor until a new CEO has been hired.