A longtime leader of the state’s economic development efforts will now take over the role in Lawrence, officials from the Lawrence chamber of commerce announced Friday.
Steve Kelly, the deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce and director of business and community development, has agreed to leave the Department of Commerce and take over Lawrence’s economic development program. He is expected to begin in early January as vice president of economic development with The Chamber and the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County.
Although Kelly works in Topeka, he has lived in Lawrence for nearly 30 years, Larry McElwain, president and CEO of The Chamber said.
“We just know that we needed somebody who was high quality and we needed somebody who was very well experienced, and it just happened that person was on our doorstep,” McElwain said. “It finally dawned on us that we needed to approach him.”
In his position with the Department of Commerce, Kelly has played key roles in drawing major business projects to the state.
“I am very pleased to have this opportunity to be part of the team working to grow the Lawrence economy,” Kelly said in a press release. “Having lived here for nearly 30 years, I know Lawrence is a great community with unique assets and economic opportunities. I am very excited that I will now be collaborating with so many wonderful partners to realize those opportunities.”
Local leaders said Kelly’s experience in the economic development field and knowledge of the area stood out.
“We are elated to have someone who knows how to use all of the tools of economic development,” said Cal Karlin, chair of The Chamber’s board of directors. “That fact that he is a Lawrencian means that he can better get our message out about what a great place this is to live and to do business.”
McElwain said Kelly brings relationships in the economic development world that the Lawrence chamber currently is lacking.
“We have listened to our critics,” McElwain said. “(One of) two things we were being critiqued pretty hard on is having professional economic developers. All of us on staff are learning those skills, but when you can hire somebody with the experience already in place, that is a premium that you go after.”
McElwain said the other item The Chamber has been criticized for is its funding agreement with the city of Lawrence. McElwain said a revised funding agreement is being submitted to city commissioners on Tuesday. That agreement will call for, among other items, the segregation of city funding for economic development and general Chamber funds, as well as a new requirement that any remaining economic development funds be rolled over from year to year, according to a city memo on the proposed agreement.
McElwain said he believes the proposed changes will answer the requests for more transparency in the city’s funding of economic development. He also said a similar agreement likely will be reached with the county, which also provides funding for economic development operations.