What has happened to the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce? Where has it gone?
At one time, not too many years ago, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce was an integral, important and active part of the city. It was involved, to one degree or another, in most community activities, initiating new programs for the benefit of the city, its residents and Kansas University.
Chamber officials and members worked closely with city and university officials, encouraging public support for the schools, promoting the business community, encouraging proper support of KU by state legislators, attracting new business and industry, improving the physical appearance of the city and injecting enthusiasm and excitement about the future of the city and KU.
It was a good chamber organization, a very good operation, one that was the envy of university cities in the old Big Eight Conference, as well as other Kansas communities. The majority of current Lawrence residents have no idea of the breadth of activities, as well as the successes, of the chamber in past years.
Perhaps the chamber has far more initiatives and positive accomplishments today than most members of the public know about. If the facts justify it, the chamber should be telling a more positive and better story.
Whether it is by design or because there isn’t much to report, the chamber has a far dimmer image in the community today than it did years ago. There doesn’t seem to be the activity, enthusiasm and involvement of members that there once was. Today’s chamber may have “X” number of members, but they do not seem to have the same level of interest, participation, leadership and presence in the community, retail business development, KU, Haskell Indian Nations University or farm-related activities that they did in past years.
It hasn’t helped that the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, the person who should be devoting his full effort to building and directing a high-powered and effective chamber, has not made his home in Lawrence. Rather, he has been commuting on weekends to his home in Springfield, Mo.
Wednesday afternoon, Greg Williams announced he will resign as the president and CEO effective March 14. Whether he resigned voluntarily or was asked to step aside by the chamber’s board is unknown. However, it is known there was growing dissatisfaction with Williams’ performance during his almost two years in the office.
The revolving door in the chamber’s top office indicates something is wrong within the chamber or, perhaps, Lawrence. Since the popular and effective Gary Toebben left the Lawrence chamber in 1999, there have been four chamber CEOs.
Does this say something about the chamber, those serving on the selection committees or perhaps Lawrence itself?
Competition among cities to attract residents, develop good employment opportunities, build sound public school systems, encourage good, honest city government and law enforcement operations and protect and improve the social and physical environment is becoming more intense every year. Those cities that meet this challenge also have good active chambers.
No city and no chamber of commerce can afford to coast, live in the past or think continued growth and excellence is guaranteed in the coming years.
Lawrence, with the help of university officials, was a city of dreams, action and growth, with a damned good chamber of commerce.
It’s time to get it back!