Editorial: More voices needed to help Douglas County businesses grow
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
A new organization is forming that deserves the attention of anyone who wants to see Douglas County be as prosperous as it can be.
About 50 people Friday morning showed up at the KU School of Business for the inaugural event of Douglas County CORE. The organization is basically an “entrepreneurship enabler.” A lot of Douglas County residents probably have never heard that phrase, which is understandable but less than desirable.
Lawrence and Douglas County need to do a lot more work on fostering entrepreneurship. Certainly seeds have been planted and some organizations are working very hard at it today. The community just needs a bigger group of entrepreneur evangelicals and a more focused effort.
This group can be part of that effort. It won’t be the organization that does everything or owns the idea of entrepreneurship in Douglas County. It will need to work with other groups like KU, The Chamber and local governments that have created strategic plans and have their own ideas for how to make Douglas County the most prosperous place it can be.
The group likely will be a good resource on the front lines of the battle to build new businesses. The CORE in its name stands for Connections, Opportunities and Resources. It will work to make all of those more plentiful for people who want to start a business.
It is possible the group can also help the community settle on a vision of prosperity. This page long has advocated that the community needs to do more to identify the competitive advantages it has over other communities as it relates to our desire to succeed. Too often we talk about how we want to be a great place to live but fail to recognize that we are competing with so many other places that have that same vision. What advantages can we capitalize on to put us ahead of the pack?
The group also will be a good place to discuss ideas that may take some work to get comfortable with. For instance, Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens was one of the first speakers at the event. He talked about the importance of bringing outside investors into Lawrence and Douglas County to do projects.
“Once we get on the radar of some large investors outside the community, I think they will get very excited about what we have to offer here,” Owens told the group.
Those were encouraging words to some, but probably less so to others. There certainly have been projects where outside groups seemed to have been punished by the community for having been from someplace else and trying to do a project here. Being a large investor is not always smiled upon in some Douglas County circles.
Groups like this can help flesh out those ideas and perhaps start changing some attitudes in the broader community. One way that may be possible is by having as diverse a group of people as possible.
There are positive signs on that front too. While many of the traditional economic development leaders were in the room for this first meeting, there also were new faces. And it really does seem that the group isn’t owned by any of the usual organizations that may start such an effort. Kyle Johnson, the owner of the promising local tech startup Bixy, is one of the organizers of the event. Marlin Bates, director of Douglas County K-State Research and Extension, is one of the other organizers of the event. That’s a new type of voice for Douglas County on this subject.
Now, we just need to get more of them. People who are interested in becoming involved in Douglas County CORE can reach out to Bates at the extension office, which is at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. His email address is email@example.com.