Douglas County leaders approve $30K funding request for Chamber, business and entrepreneurship programs

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bonnie Lowe, right, fields questions from Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Also pictured is Joshua Falleaf, director of economic development for Lawrence's chamber.

Despite a few lingering questions, Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday approved a $30,000 funding request that will help Lawrence’s chamber of commerce fund a variety of business and entrepreneurship initiatives.

At its regular meeting, the commission unanimously voted to fund the supplemental request, which had already been tentatively approved during the county’s budget deliberations in July. As the Journal-World reported, the Chamber had said in its request that its annual funding from the county was cut by $25,000 in 2019, and it wanted to restore that amount and add $5,000 more to account for inflation. The supplemental funding amount was in addition to the $205,000 allocation for the Chamber that was already included in the budget.

At the time, the Chamber said the money would help the Chamber and the Economic Development Corporation of Douglas County “keep pace with inflation pressures” as they prepare for the arrival of the $4 billion Panasonic battery plant in nearby De Soto. But commissioners wanted more details, and for Wednesday’s meeting, the Chamber and EDC provided a breakdown of how the money would be disbursed.

The commission had good things to say about some of the initiatives on the list. Commissioner Shannon Reid pointed to the Entrepreneur Technical Assistance grant, which would use $5,000 of the $30,000 request, as an exemplary program. The grant provides funding for Diversify Douglas County and E-Community loan recipients, as well as legal support, accounting and other technical assistance.

Reid said she liked the idea of grant assistance that would help upstart entrepreneurs pay various fees “that might be their only barrier.” But she also said that $5,000 “is a little small for that.”

Joshua Falleaf, director of economic development for The Chamber, said that figure was developed from discussions with Diversify Douglas County officials, using other partnerships as a template. One of the partnerships he mentioned was Network Kansas, a statewide network of nonprofit resources that assist entrepreneurs and small business owners.

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Douglas County Commissioner Shannon Reid directs a question at Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

Commissioners still had some questions they wanted answered before they signed off. One was about the $3,000 of the funding that would support the Haskell Business Center. Reid wondered about the relationship between Haskell and the Chamber and how that funding request came about.

“Is the Haskell Business Center a member of the Chamber of Lawrence at this point?” Reid asked. “I mean, Chamber members are everything from business owners to nonprofit organizations to (other) offices … and the reason I’m asking is because I wonder what sort of promotional benefits come along with a Chamber membership.”

Bonnie Lowe, the Chamber’s president and CEO, confirmed that the Haskell Business Center is a Chamber member. And Steve Kelly, the Chamber’s vice president of economic development, said some of the benefits that Chamber members get include ribbon-cutting ceremonies, invitations to monthly gatherings, and inclusion in the Chamber’s newsletter chain. Kelly said the Haskell Business Center has “limitations on what they can do in terms of hosting events and those sorts of things.”

“Which we thought would be something we could help with,” Kelly said, “maybe give them some additional exposure in the community and among that population as well.”

Reid said that “I think what I’m hearing is that there was not necessarily an explicit request made or presented to The Chamber … but perhaps an organic conversation happening with some Chamber board representation from Haskell talking about ideas and possibilities.”

“I think that would be accurate,” Kelly said.

Commission Chair Karen Willey, who appeared via Zoom, said that while the Chamber’s documents still lacked some details, she was “pleased with the breadth of partnerships this (funding request) represents.” In addition to data, she said, “I think what we’ll get out of this is stories.”

“And I’m excited to hear some of those stories and find out where those areas of strength are,” Willey said, “and identify some areas of weakness in our community, not just in the Chamber, of ways we can move forward and support entrepreneurs. I’m pleased with the proposal.”

The full breakdown of the funding request is as follows:

• $12,475 for minority entrepreneur opportunities.

• $5,000 for the Entrepreneur Technical Assistance grant.

• $5,000 for Spanish language accessibility support.

• $4,525 to support the completion of the E3 project.

• $3,000 to support the Haskell Business Center.

In other business, commissioners:

• Authorized County Administrator Sarah Plinsky to sign an interlocal agreement between the City of Lawrence, Baldwin City, Eudora and Douglas County to jointly operate and maintain the Douglas County Emergency Communication Center providing 911 emergency communication services. Under the new agreement, the county would pay a base share of one-third of the cost of the ECC, with the three cities paying a share of the remaining expenses based on their respective populations. The Lawrence City Commission approved the agreement at its meeting Tuesday.


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