Lawrence city commissioners are set to have their first discussion about overhauling the community’s economic development program, and talk is centering on how to make the area’s job creation efforts faster and friendlier.
Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday will discuss creating a new “Joint Economic Development Council” that would eventually have its own budget and some decision-making authority on economic development matters.
Mayor Bob Schumm said he thinks the greatest benefit of the new organization could be that it would bring the city, the county, the chamber of commerce and other business stakeholders closer together.
“In the past, when we have been faced with trying to get something done, it seems like there have been times we haven’t coordinated very well, and then a bit of a blame game begins,” Schumm said. “If it is a single entity, I think we’ll all will be bound by the word ‘us.’”
John Ross, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, said he thinks the new organization also will allow the community to respond more quickly to economic development opportunities.
“These opportunities, when they come up, they’re time sensitive,” Ross said. “As a community, we need to be able to marshal our forces to meet the needs of the community.”
But exactly what authority the new organization would have is a detail still left to be decided. Commissioners at their meeting are expected to ask staff members to prepare an ordinance that would begin to spell out some of those details.
Schumm said he could envision the new entity eventually having its own budget — both from private and public sources — and having the authority to offer some incentives to companies through that budget.
As for other details, the chamber has proposed a general structure for the organization. Those details include:
• A three-member executive committee would make “day-to-day” decisions related to economic development initiatives in the city and the county. The executive committee would be made up of the Lawrence city manager, the county administrator and the chamber CEO.
• The larger “Joint Economic Development Council” would be established to supervise the organization’s budget, to make budget requests to the city and the county, and to recommend polices for economic development initiatives. The council would include the three members from the executive committee, plus several representatives from Kansas University and other organizations. They include: the chair of the chamber’s board of directors; a Lawrence city commissioner, a Douglas County commissioner, the KU chancellor or her designee, the executive chair of the Bioscience and Business Technology Center; and three representatives from the business community appointed by the chamber CEO. The city administrators of Eudora and Baldwin City also would serve as ex officio members of the council.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.