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.