Archive for Thursday, September 11, 2014

Proposed economic development strategy puts more focus on startup companies, local food

September 11, 2014


Growing startup businesses and growing fruits and vegetables are both part of the proposed economic development strategy being put forward by the Lawrence chamber of commerce.

The latest draft of the economic development strategy has added a goal of creating a regional food hub that could serve as a sort of wholesale distribution center for locally grown produce. The plan envisions the hub serving both Douglas County and the entire Kansas City metro area.

“It is clearly something that would develop some jobs and be true economic development,” said County Administrator Craig Weinaug, who envisions the county playing a major role in the planning of a food hub. “It would be a development very much in line with the values of the community.”

Larry McElwain, president and CEO of The Chamber, said he’s recommending adding the project to the community economic development strategy after learning more about the idea from City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer and County Commissioner Nancy Thellman. McElwain said the idea of a food hub has been discussed with the Delaware Tribe of Indians, which owns about 100 acres near the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence. McElwain said the idea of that property serving as part of the food hub concept has been discussed, but no agreements have been reached.

“We’re putting our toe in the water on this, and not jumping in the deep end yet,” McElwain said of the chamber’s role. “It is a big, aggressive project, but we think we can help.”

The proposed plan calls for local economic development officials to identify four potential sites for a food hub and to make an assessment of what type of workforce would be needed for the operation of a hub. The plan also calls for the chamber to support private investors in the region.

The economic development plan also includes several other goals:

• Increasing the help provided to startup companies and entrepreneurs. Part of the strategy would involve: creating an entrepreneurship scholarship fund that could provide some small grants to help with start-up expenses; creation of a revolving loan fund to help small businesses with financing; and a venture capital fund to help with larger financial needs. The strategy proposes that government be involved in helping fund the scholarship and revolving loan fund, but that any venture capital fund be funded and managed by the private sector.

• Complete a study that reviews which industries Lawrence and Douglas County would have the most success in attracting to the area. Until the study is completed — which likely would begin in early 2015 — the plan recommends leaders focus their recruitment efforts on companies in either logistics, advanced manufacturing, back office/financial firms, and the biosciences.

Members of the Joint Economic Development Council agreed to allow the draft strategy to be presented to other community groups for feedback. McElwain said he hopes to have the plan approved by the JEDC, the chamber board, the City Commission and the County Commission within the next 45 days.

Council members said they were generally supportive of the plan, especially the greater emphasis on startup and small business assistance.

“It is clearly an opportunity to think differently, and probably smarter, about how we attract and grow jobs in the community,” said City Manager David Corliss, who is a member of the JEDC. “This is different than just trying to land that company with an anonymous name.”


James Howlette 3 years, 9 months ago

Huh. Sounds like they're actually on to something here.

David Reynolds 3 years, 9 months ago

If that is all there is to the economic development plan we will never, be able to provide significant job & wage growth, reduce taxes for home owners, or keep up with infrastructure needs. We will only be able to provide low wage service sector jobs. How do we ever keep our kids home unless we have good paying corporations with a large enough employee structure to absorb them?

James Howlette 3 years, 9 months ago

You "keep your kids home" by offering them the chance to grow their own innovative business and not be beholden to a fickle corporation that can pack up and move overnight when they find some other city willing to give them bigger tax incentives.

David Reynolds 3 years, 9 months ago

Interesting point.

But are you saying you are not willing to offer startups tax incentives?

What happens to that local startup that grows, that got that tax incentive or loan, & finds it needs to be closer to suppliers, its client base, or other companies it needs to interact with to be successful? Does it not move if it wants to survive? What happens if it fails? Does that not make the start up fickle? What if the start up becomes very successful & it gets an offer from another locality that makes the startup a very lucrative offer & secures its future success?

Companies behave just as individuals behave. Each person acts in their own personal interest wether it is financial, social or some other reason. If an individual is making $30K a year in Lawrence and is offered a job at $60K someplace else is that person going to take the position if it offers there family financial security? Probably. Do individuals wait to purchase something until it is on sale? So do corporations.

Individuals, & companies must realize we live and function in a global society. Thus to compete for companies and resources, to locate in Lawrence, we must be able to offer what our competition offers to attract companies & talent. The person working in an auto factory competes with European & Asian counterparts for jobs. Persons competing for high-tech positions in the computer industry are competing with individuals in Ireland & India and locations throughout the USA. Bill Self has to be able to compete with other high profile schools to attract top talent to KU.

There is an old adage in business: "No more than 10% of your business should be tied up in one client". That is one reason why you need a mix of large, moderate and small companies In a mix of business sectors, that can provide stability & growth to the local economy. Because as the economy & circumstances change Lawrence is not hurt by those changes.

James Howlette 3 years, 9 months ago

We're not competing against India and Europe when it comes to local food. A lot of your rant seems to be ignoring what the article actually said.

A startup is less likely to move away from the city in which it started than some already existing large company that is playing other cities against each other to find the fattest goodie basket. And if it does move as either a growing small or medium business, it's a lot easier to replace than the big companies so many cities try foolishly to court only to lose as soon as their tax incentive runs out. A healthy startup culture is a healthy local economic culture.

The large companies will remain if the climate is right. They'll leave if it isn't. The medium companies will have grown out of the small ones, and the small ones are the seeds we keep watering as an area of continual growth and renewal. Your old adage is exactly why your large client-chasing strategies are very silly. It's a city. Not a stock portfolio.

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