Give The Chamber credit for recruiting Steve Kelly to serve as vice president of economic development with The Chamber and the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County.
Kelly, the deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce and director of business and community development, is expected to take over Lawrence’s economic development efforts in early January. Kelly’s experience in Kansas and familiarity with Lawrence are good fits for the city’s economic development efforts. Kelly has lived in Lawrence for 30 years. He commutes to Topeka, where in his role with the Department of Commerce, he is charged with attracting major business projects to the state.
“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. “The 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.”
Larry McElwain, president and CEO of The Chamber, said Kelly has connections in economic development in Kansas and around the country that The Chamber has not previously had.
“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.”
Kelly has no shortage of challenges ahead. Lawrence has a variety of assets to attract new industry, including available sites at Lawrence VenturePark and East Hills Business Park, a growing vocational training center, as well as good transportation access, the University of Kansas and overall high quality of life. But recent economic development efforts have not been as fruitful as hoped, in part because Lawrence hasn’t had an economic development leader who can help the community identify not only economic development opportunities, but also the right economic development opportunities.
Lawrence has to shift its focus from the shrinking manufacturing sector and toward the jobs of the next generation in the emerging industries of robotics, automation, biotechnology and other segments of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. That’s not an easy transition to make, but in Kelly, The Chamber has at least identified someone with the right background and experience to lead the effort.