Lawrence Chamber of Commerce engages private sector

October 21, 2012


New Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Williams only needed to hear the question once.

Meetings would come and go at Lawrence City Hall with contentious subjects ranging from development along Interstate 70 to a funding agreement for the South Lawrence Trafficway. Oftentimes opponents of the development-oriented proposals would show up at meetings to speak against the plans, but the folks who would talk your ear off in the coffee shop about Lawrence’s lack of jobs were nowhere to be heard.

Some City Hall leaders had begun to become miffed and started asking the question, sometimes with increasing bluntness.

Where’s the business community?

“I remember having commissioners and administrators look to us and say that they know there is support out there for these efforts, but where is everybody?” said Williams, who took over as the chamber’s president and CEO in May. “It did not take me long to accept that we are obligated, not just expected, but obligated to be there to encourage the community to make common sense decisions on growth and development matters.”

So, one of Williams’ first initiatives at the Chamber was to form a new invitation-only committee called the Chamber’s Voice of Business Committee. The group now has 50 active members. Williams is confident that from that group of 50 he can pull together at a moment’s notice a pool of a dozen business advocates to attend and speak at any city commission, county commission or school board meeting that has an economic development-related issue.

The new group is one sign of change at the Lawrence Chamber, which is on its fourth president since 2000. But other signs may be on the way.

Williams confirmed that in the coming days and week’s he’ll ask the chamber’s board to approve what would likely be a million-dollar-plus campaign to raise private funds to help with economic development efforts.

“Our private sector financial support is frankly not where I believe it needs to be,” Williams said. “We have tremendous public sector support for economic development. But excellent economic development organizations require support from the private sector.”

About 40 members holding leadership positions in the chamber gathered for a two-day retreat last week, and Williams — who was interviewed before the retreat — said he hopes the chamber will emerge with three to four firm goals to work on for 2013.

A plan to start a fundraising campaign in 2013 — which likely would seek pledges over a multiyear period — could be one of the larger initiatives. Williams said a private consulting firm likely would be enlisted to help determine how large of a campaign would be appropriate.

Williams said any campaign would be accompanied by a “full prospectus” that would show donors exactly how the money would be spent. He said any plan likely would include strategies in multiple areas such as business retention and expansion, national business development, workforce development and other areas.

Williams helped lead two five-year capital campaigns while he was the senior vice president of economic development for the Springfield, Mo. Area Chamber of Commerce from 1995 to 2010.

He said he’s confident there will be plenty of willing supporters of a campaign, but he’s not sure the Chamber has done enough in the past to reach out to them with a specific plan.

“What I have observed and what has been conveyed to me by leaders of the business community is there is a silent majority of unbelievably strong support for our plans to raise the bar on job creation,” Williams said. “There is a very vocal minority of individuals, good people in this community, who don’t necessarily and won’t necessarily agree with our approach.”

Williams said he won’t purse a “growth for growth’s sake” strategy at the chamber. But he said Lawrence’s job creation goals need to include but go beyond attracting the popular high-tech and bioscience jobs that many communities are clamoring to attract.

“There is no such thing as low-tech or no-tech jobs out there,” Williams said. “Manufacturing as an industry offers some of the most attractive wage rates in America.”

Williams said he’ll work to sell the Chamber’s strategies to the broader community, but he said he won’t try to gain unanimity before moving forward with initiatives.

“There will never be a level of disrespect,” Williams said. “I won’t tolerate for one moment discourteous or rude interaction with those who don’t agree with what we are doing. But I will say I’m absolutely fine on agreeing to disagree. We can disagree agreeably.”


Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

This is not a new chamber of commerce. The real estate/developer industry still run the show and city hall and the city commission. Actions speak louder than words. The real estate/developer people are not about to relinquish their power over government and OUR tax dollars. Let's not get duped again.

50 biased people who all think the same offers little in challenging debate. Of course it is likely if one did not agree with Mr Williams = not selected. This is Sam Brownback within our city limits...... beware.

Too many that support tax dollar give aways is unhealthy for our wallets and the overall economy.

Hiring more NOT necessary consultants is a waste of tax dollars right off the top.

Dan Eyler 5 years, 4 months ago

Lawrence chamber of commerce decided to pull out of the Ks chamber of commerce because they claim it is hijacked by conservatives that don't support Lawrence values. Walking away from the Ks Chamber will devastate the ability to gain private sector help. Lawrence has found itself on the outside looking in. With the tax payer broke and nothing more to give the Lawrence chamber has no choice but to look at the private sector for new business and jobs. It's basically Lawrence against the rest of the state competing for private sector jobs and Lawrence is finding out how difficult it is going to be when for years your primary job creation has been KU and public school funding. With the rest of the state looking for private sector jobs, sharing resources and Information through the state chamber, Lawrence is a bit bewildered because of the lack of private sector business support knocking down the Lawrence chambers door. When the door has been locked and Lawrence deciding on a go it alone business model, I doubt the private sector Lawrence is seeking will take Lawrence all that serious.

irvan moore 5 years, 4 months ago

the chamber uses taxpayer money to help them bilk the taxpayers out of more money

Gary Rexroad 5 years, 4 months ago

Lawrence is lucky to have found Mr. Williams and will certainly benefit from his leadership in both the very tough and competitive jobs marketplace and, as important, in his demonstration of respectful dialogue.
We are up against a very tough marketplace and the competition for jobs is furious. Like it or not, the reality is we need a great story and a strong war chest if we want to compete and win jobs. While Lawrence has many wonderful attributes, we have not historically presented a winning case sufficient for business outside Lawrence to choose us as a place to call home. The Chambers renewed energy and that or the Board and Board Chair John Ross, are on the right track.
I agree there is a quiet majority in Lawrence willing to support these efforts. Let’s also agree not to be distracted by the vocal few who throw mud behind an anonymous blog posts. Most are serious and eager to engage in a dialogue about how they can help us arrive at good decisions for our community. It is time for Lawrence to realize the world is changing around us and if we want to create jobs and shift tax basis off of residents, your work must be successful. I am behind you.
Gary Rexroad 785.226.2908

Tim Herndon 5 years, 4 months ago

Above, spontaneous reactions from individuals comprising a majority of repeat LJW bloggers armed with relatively very few facts, yet are nearly always the first to contribute nothing but negativity. Cloaked in anonymity, slandering and accusing, continually trying to derail higher efforts to sustain and advance Lawrence.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Enthusiasm flags when real work is demanded. - H. P. Lovecraft

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm. - Henry David Thoreau

It's a great time in Lawrence, where able support and enthusiasm produces a new Economic Development Counsel, hires a Chamber exec from an extraordinarily vibrant community in our region, and emphasizes the public/private voices within our own community. ...Where a new Library, Farmland business park, 9th & New Hampshire Streets development, potential Sports Village, completed South Lawrence Trafficway, wetlands expansion and environmental appreciation center, and a new freeway entrance straight to KU will help alleviate our citizens' tax burden while advancing our lifestyles.

And while it's critically important to hear the voice of dissent, it's more important to clear a place in our community for unlimited possibility. THANK YOU, DOERS!

Cindy Yulich 5 years, 4 months ago

The "wife" of a this 1950?

SouthernMan 5 years, 4 months ago

I've met the chamber guy and listened to his plans. And I believe he's on the right track. It's way overdue to get jobs created and look past all the naysayers in this town. How/Why he wants to work in an atmosphere of rebuke and dissent is beyond me, but I wish him luck. He's right though. There's a LOT of people in Lawrence who want the chamber to be successful. The naysayers (like the regular posters here) should just get over themselves.

kernal 5 years, 4 months ago

When the time comes that actions back up words, then I can be quiet. Until then, I will express my opinion, ask questions, be jaded, be hopeful and I will NOT be silent.

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