Chamber still considering major, private capital campaign; eco devo leaders hoping to get an assist from Phil Mickelson
There’s a major economic development project in the works in Lawrence, but it may not be the type you’re thinking about.
Lawrence Chamber of Commerce leaders are likely to make a decision later this month to launch a fundraising drive — or in the lingo of the business, a capital campaign — to better support economic development efforts in the community.
The idea behind the campaign is simple: Have private businesses and individuals start stepping up to the plate at a level that is much closer to the funding that city and county government currently provide the chamber.
“Our public sector level of funding is tremendous for a community of this size,” said Greg Williams, president and CEO of the chamber. “But our private sector financial support leaves a lot to be desired and, frankly, for good reason.
“We need to start proving ourselves in the job creation arena.”
Chamber leaders received a report last week from a Columbus, Ohio-base consulting firm estimating the potential for a capital campaign in Douglas County. Williams declined to release that number, but he said he was very encouraged by the findings. (UPDATE: According to a presentation I heard at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Board meeting this morning, the chamber is looking at a goal of $850,000 over a period of three years.)
“They brought us a number that they can guarantee they can raise,” Williams said. “It is a number that will really allow us to go full speed ahead.”
The chamber’s board of directors now must decided whether to formally commit to the campaign. Williams said a meeting is scheduled for Feb. 27 to discuss the campaign, which likely would allow donors to make pledges for up to a three-year period.
If approved, the chamber likely would launch the campaign in early April. Williams said the campaign would be introduced in a way to make it clear where any money raised would be spent. He said programs, among others, would include one focused on helping existing businesses grow and expand, one focusing on entrepreneurship that would work with the KU School of Business, and a program aimed at boosting the chamber’s ability to recruit businesses from outside the region.
Williams — who has been on the job since late May — said he’s already working to boost that effort. He and the chamber’s economic development project manager are flying to California in the coming days to begin talking to business prospects.
Why California? The reason may surprise you.
“The minute Phil Mickelson made his proclamation that he's leaving California because of the state’s income tax, I bought a plane ticket,” Williams said. “We have to reach those businesses that are preparing to leave the state in droves.”
In case you missed it, Mickelson has created a bit of feeding frenzy on California’s wealthy after he said he was considering moving from the state for tax reasons.
But California may not be the only area that has a messaging problem at the moment. Williams said he’s also working on an initiative to help folks in Kansas City better understand Lawrence.
He said one of the surprising things he’s learned while in Lawrence is that many Kansas City business leaders view Lawrence as some distant place. Williams said the chamber is working with a firm to create some messaging strategies — which could include actual advertisements in the Kansas City media — to promote the idea that “Lawrence is next,” as in the next stop down the road.
He said he recently talked to a broker who pitches Lawrence locations to business in the Kansas City. Williams said the broker said the response often is “why would we go that far west?”
One of the marketing points a chamber campaign is likely to make is that Lawrence is closer to downtown Kansas City than Grandview is to KCI.
“There are people who think Lawrence is Goodland, and that is a problem,” Williams said.