Now seems like a perfect time for Lawrence and Douglas County to review the area’s economic development strategy and perhaps clarify some of the duties and responsibilities associated with that strategy.
The local chamber of commerce has hired a new president and CEO and plans to work with the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence-Douglas County to hire a new person to focus on economic development. At the same time, the Joint Economic Development Council, created almost two years ago, is raising some questions about its role in funding and overseeing those efforts. Everyone sees the need to develop local business ventures and attract new businesses to the area, but it’s important for all the local players to be on the same page and working together to make that happen.
Right now, things are a little confusing. The Economic Development Corporation is an arm of the chamber that replaced Douglas County Development Inc., which developed East Hills Business Park. The EDC is billed on the chamber’s website as “an allied partner” of the chamber, the city of Lawrence and Douglas County, which share in its funding. However, at least some of those partners apparently saw the need for additional economic development involvement so they formed the Joint Economic Development Council, which is made up of representatives from the city, county, chamber, Kansas University, the Bioscience and Technology Business Center and the cities of Eudora and Baldwin.
The joint board’s duties were outlined to include “general oversight and vision of the economic development efforts to attract and to retain jobs in Lawrence and Douglas County.” That includes approval of budget requests to the chamber, city and county as well as involvement in economic development policies.
The joint board can play an important role by bringing together all the major players in local economic development efforts but it also raises questions about exactly who is driving those efforts. Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan helped define that question at a recent meeting of the joint board. “We need to decide whether this is the chamber’s economic development budget or whether this is the Lawrence-Douglas County economic development budget,” he said. “I think it is our budget. I think we need to stop thinking about this as the chamber’s request for funding.”
That’s probably more than a simple semantic distinction.
If local economic development efforts are to be successful, all the government, education and business entities involved in those efforts need to be on the same page and agree on where everyone’s responsibilities lie. As noted at the outset, now is a great time to make sure that is the case and that all the pertinent players agree not only that Lawrence needs more business development but also how it will go about accomplishing that goal.