Archive for Monday, May 21, 2012

Economic roles

It’s not a bad idea to look at ways to ramp up the community’s economic development efforts.

May 21, 2012


Lawrence city commissioners recently agreed to continue moving forward on a proposal to create a new economic development structure for Lawrence and Douglas County.

It’s not a bad idea to look at ways to revamp the current lackluster strategy. The proposal being considered would create a new Joint Economic Development Council that eventually could have its own budget and much more authority than local economic development advisory boards have had in the past.

There are many important questions city leaders should have answered before finalizing this new entity. Paramount will be an understanding of what type of decisions could be made by this new joint council and what type would continue to be made by elected bodies, like the city and county commissions.

However, commissioners should not become distracted by what likely will be a host of concerns expressed by neighborhood advocates. Already, members of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods have expressed concern that the new council won’t have enough professional expertise.

That’s an odd argument given the city created the position of economic development coordinator and planner several years ago at the request of many of these same neighborhood advocates. In addition, the newly hired Lawrence Chamber of Commerce president and CEO is a certified economic development professional. His background suggests he has significant professional expertise in economic development.

What these neighborhood advocates really are seeking is to have the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce removed from the economic development structure. That seems like the wrong strategy. The chamber of commerce needs to improve its operations, and we’re hopeful the new leader will do that, but the chamber has a role to play in our economic development efforts. Successful communities often raise private funds to supplement public support for economic development. Lawrence’s business community should be prepared to support a private economic development endowment in the future, and the chamber of commerce can play a critical role in making that happen.

City commissioners should continue to move ahead with a new formula for economic development in Lawrence and Douglas County. Leaders should be open to a variety of changes to make our area more competitive. When it comes to advancing our community, Lawrence too often suffers from a fear of change.

The community can no longer fear change. If we are to reach our potential as a community, we must change how we seek to grow it.


softsun 6 years ago

The Chamber need to be accountable. “Atlas Advertising — the group that conducted 23 interviews with stakeholders in February — stated pretty bluntly its key finding: “Perceptions of economic development in Lawrence & Douglas County today are not favorable, due in large part to inconsistent, unfocused and sometimes controversial leadership.” When asked to describe economic development efforts, words included: “fractured,” “confused,” and “an assortment of non-accountable folks.” While activities may be "legal", it spotlights the Lawrence Chamber is not taking steps toward complying with transparency guidance and “is not well suited to lead economic development investments.” It looks like rather than fix the parent group, they want form another Joint Commission and continue to hide the ball from the taxpayers who pay over half of the cost of the chamber. The Lawrence Chamber is still a member of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. The Lawrence Chamber receives more than $500,000 annually in taxpayers subsidy from Douglas County and City of Lawrence and has no written policy on "conflict of interest", no written policy on document retention or destruction nor a number of other "best practices" safeguards on governance.

softsun 6 years ago

The Lawrence Chamber has no written policy on: Conflict of Interest; no policy on Whistle Blowers; No Policy for Record Destruction or Retention; the Chamber Board does not review their own tax form before it is filed; there are no requirements for the Chamber Board members or key employees to annually disclose potential conflicts; the Lawrence Chamber financial statements have not received an outside audit for at least 3 years; the expense reports are not reviewed by anyone on the Board before reimbursement. While this may be "legal", it spotlights the Lawrence Chamber is not taking steps toward complying with transparency guidance and “is not well suited to lead economic development investments.” The factions of “confused, fractured and non-accountable folks” simply appoint a new Board by proposing the Joint Economic Development Adventure BUT as schooled urban Mplanners, neighborhood associations, and others have pointed out at a recent City Commission meeting, while this may satisfy the lawyers, the voters are already “wanting to be cautious.” In fact, many say “NO WAY” in anticipation of being asked for the ½ cent additional sales tax to provide the money for another economic development scheme. As you say, "looking over the horizon", perhaps it would be a good idea for the Chamber to pay more than lip service to accountability and provide open governance so taxpayers can see what we are paying for at the Chamber. Perhaps City and County elected officials will see this as a good time to have their administrators review the Chambers tax exempt, not for profit tax return to help them implement governance policy. Lack of written policy on issues for which the taxpayers pay over half of the cost of the Chamber disgust the taxpayers who are then told “not to worry”, the Joint Commission will have its own Board and all the Chamber can come up with to say is the Joint Commission will provide a forum “so we can talk about how we want to change”. As you often say, their feet need to be held to the fire. Stay after them and see if we can find out what the Chamber is doing with the over $500,000 the taxpayers already provide annually. As you said, Insist on a report on what costs are over the horizon on funding for the proposed Joint Commission. Taxpayers already pay more of the Chamber expenses than their dues paying members. Dues provide only 35 percent of the Chamber revenue and the Lawrence taxpayers pay over $500,000.

Agreed, we must not fear change. We do need accountability and open records as discussed in other articles in today's Journal World.

softsun 6 years ago

It is hoped we are not afraid of Best Practices economic development tools on the horizon with the proposed new buildings at 9th and New Hampshire. They bring jobs and people who can make a real difference in Lawrence. As someone said, the downtown Lawrence skyline can become more than a grain elevator and a microwave tower. We should not be afraid of change. With long term anchor investment like those which could be made at 9th and New Hampshire perhaps owners of structures along Massachusetts will become comfortable investing in foundation and a number of other decay downtown. Best of luck to the long term stay hotel and NEW apartment project. A change would be to fast track these projects while people are interested in investing.

scaramouchepart2 6 years ago

It looks as if the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods understands the monies the local chamber already receives has not helped the chamber in providing primary jobs as they are paid to do. The chamber has shown poor leadership in providing said jobs and now they want more money with more control without proof of their ability to do the job. With the new group completely controlled by the chamber with 6 or 7 members over the few government officials with one representative for the rest of Lawrence and one for the county the chamber will no longer have to comply with city or county government. What real economic improvements are there. More control and more money with a definition of primary jobs to mean anything the chamber wants. Chamber's definition for primary jobs being any head of household job. Not any business that sells product or services in excess of what can be consumed by the local markets and are exported to other markets in exchange for money or export income. This creates new wealth into the community. Not what has been happening, which is bringing retail jobs, which do not pay enough to afford the employee to live in Lawrence and therefore at the end of the day Lawrence dollars are taken out of town and spent elsewhere. And as we add retail without additional residents we are only spreading the local dollar to more places of business. Not increasing local dollars. Example, we have x dollars and x stores and we add another store. The x dollars stay the same, but is now spent in more stores. Cutting the profit of all stores. As in many organizations The Lawrence Association of neighborhoods would probably like to grow and the only way they grow is new residents. The only way they get new residents is if Lawrence grows. So economic development is important to them also. The chamber has not proven to be money well spent and so the need for professionals is an important request.

scaramouchepart2 6 years ago

The editor says Lawrence residents are afraid of change. It looks more like the editor is afraid of change and that change is the Chamber play the role of implementiing the community's economic development decisions and no longer control it. The chamber has a definite role in economic development, but the head of economic development - no. Their role is, as always, to implement. Lawrence needs to have a heart to heart discussion with our leaders including eveyone who understands the importance of and how to go about making the changes needed to improve our economic development process. There are important questions that need to be addressed and the community needs to make those decisions. The chamber is biased when making any decision for their own financial good. We all are biased and that is why a community discussion is needed. It takes the individual bias out of the conversation.

softsun 5 years, 11 months ago

A recent LJ World editorial suggested Lawrence look over the horizon. Is Cerner Corporation considering Lawrence in their expansion plans beyond the 901 New Hampshire Building. Greg Williams, the newest Lawrence Chamber President is slated to Chair the proposed Joint Commission for Economic Development. He was vetted through the same executive search firm which has direct ties to the republican based U. S. Chamber of Commerce. Thefactsare Waver Partners is the preferred executive search firm of the U. S. Chamber and one of the Lawrence Chamber recruitment requirements was that the candidates for President have a good relationship with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Many Chamber Members claim they do not know or want the Lawrence Chamber to be members of the Kansas Chamber. Less than 2 years ago, Greg Williams was on a list executive search company was using to place people with experience in economic development. He was recruited to work for the University of Missouri while Gary Forsee, former President of Sprint was the Chancellor of MU. The leader of the MU business school said of Williams "He's a deal maker. He makes deals. He gets things done," Nichols said. In Lawrence, perhaps he will get the neighborhoods working with the downtown developers by having someone talk to both sets of stake holders. There is no benefit in dragging this out through the billable hours process we are experiencing with the South Lawrence Traffic way by waiting for every process to run its own course. Let’s get 2 more buildings at 9th and New Hampshire underway. Perhaps Mr. Williams can talk to the neighborhoods, determine their needs and get their needs met, then communicate that to the developers and City. From a related article MU Chancellor “Gary Forsee was on the hot seat over alleged insider dealing in a transaction between the University of Missouri and Cerner Corporation, under which Cerner would provide healthcare information services had to the University of Missouri and explain to members of the Missouri University's I.T. department, the process! Forsee's son worked at Cerner for several years prior, and Forsee served on corporate boards with Cerner's CEO, Neal Patterson. Employees said it was the first time they’d heard the name “Tiger Institute.”

softsun 5 years, 11 months ago

University workers fear they will either become Cerner employees or lose their university benefits or that their jobs will be cut. Forsee would not comment on those speculations. When asked about that request, Forsee replied: “We’re done here.” Then George Carr, chief information officer for MU Health, canceled a regular staff meeting which could have shed light on the situation. “I am going to postpone the town hall meeting for a little while until we can cover the status of the Tiger Institute (MU/Cerner Partnership) with some certainty,” Carr wrote in an e-mail to staff that the Tribune obtained. He went on to say: “I do realize that this is a huge issue to everyone, so I want to make sure we spend our time wisely and get the results we need.” Employees said it was the first time they’d heard the name “Tiger Institute.” The workers fear they will either become Cerner employees and lose their university benefits or that their jobs will be cut. Forsee would not comment on those speculations. The matter quickly fell to back pages of the news and the uproar died down, but mistrust of Forsee was evident within UM's ranks, according to news reports published at the time.” Shortly after his sponsor, Gary Forsee resigned as President of the University of Missouri, MU officials announced that due to budget considerations, Greg Williams position at MU was being eliminated. What? Williams, responsible for developing the 10 Missouri University research parks and incubators across Missouri, working closely with tenants to negotiate leases and nurture existing relationships position eliminated due to budget considerations??? Forsee was named one of the "Worst CEOs in America. After taking an extended leave in December, 2010 to care for his wife, Sherry, who was diagnosed with cancer, Forsee announced his immediate resignation to the MU Board of Curators on January 7, 2011.” Soon, MU officials announced elimination of Greg Williams position and the Waver Partners “head hunters” for the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, closely allied with the Kansas Chamber again placed several applicants on their placement list. The Lawrence Chamber Board Chairman and Search Chair changed their focus seeking this economic development “Rock Star?” Shooting star? falling star? or flash in the pan, who less than 2 years ago was being anointed the darling of the University of Missouri economic development community. What’s the rest of the story??

softsun 5 years, 11 months ago

What’s the rest of the story?? Star June 9, 2010 COLUMBIA — “Five weeks ago Greg Williams got a phone call from a job search company. Today he is the new director of University of Missouri System research parks. Williams is now responsible for developing the 10 university research parks and incubators across Missouri.” Gregory Williams posts .... Gary, My best wishes and a prayer are Mon 12/20/2010 2:42 PM., Marilee. Gary Forsee's wife . Just a few weeks ago, another new Lawrence Chamber president was on the horizon for the Lawrence Chamber search officers. Today, he is in the Lawrence Community Vision headlights. There is no doubt, “economic development” Joint Council will chose the winners and losers in Lawrence future and in a recent LJ World article, the City has promised to be “Fair” in the Joint Ecodevo process?
Do the Douglas County and Lawrence taxpayers really want to continue paying for another round of “Harold Hill” right here in River City where over half of the cost of the Lawrence Chamber is coming from public money, “crowning Kings” by selecting who in the business community are to receive ECODEVO funds. The Chamber governance does not have a written conflict of interest policy. It took MU less than a year to conclude the “head hunters” had not been helpful so they eliminated his position and he returned to the list for placement.
Had enough yet? The time has come for the Lawrence business community to pay the cost of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. As long as you pay for it, the Chamber will continue to choose Waver Partners as the “head hunters” who continue to guide the Lawrence Chamber Selection Committees along their path of close affiliation with the Kansas Chamber and U. S. Chamber of Commerce. This account churning of going through Chamber Presidents like Kleenex choosing the same selection chair that chooses the same “head hunters” could lead to dwindling membership.

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