May 28, 2023

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Marketing Lawrence

It would be interesting to know how many of the men and women who just received their undergraduate and graduate degrees from Kansas University would like to stay in Lawrence IF there were job opportunities which matched their training and schooling.

Likewise, how many KU graduates who have scattered to other parts of the state or throughout the country would like to return to Lawrence IF there were attractive job opportunities?

According to two senior KU faculty members active in assessing the skills and desires of many distinguished current and former students, a large number of these individuals would like to make Lawrence their home.

The combination of KU and Lawrence, or Lawrence and KU, presents an attractive package to many students, current and past, but there are not the job opportunities according to the two faculty members noted above.

This situation is not new but mentioning it at this time seems appropriate for two reasons: Graduation ceremonies at KU were only a few weeks ago and thousands of talented, enthusiastic and well-schooled men and women have left Lawrence looking for jobs and starting new careers.

At the same time, the president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce announced he will retire from this important position at the end of next January. As Chamber president he also oversees economic development for Douglas County. He and his associates have the challenge of identifying, locating and selling businesses and industries on locating in Lawrence.

The presence of KU, the geographic location of Lawrence, excellent transportation facilities, a work force that enjoys a record of delivering outstanding performances, Right-to-Work legislation and good livability conditions all combine to present an ideal location and climate for new business and industry.

Granted, competition for new business/industry is intense but many similar college towns seem to be able to attract more attention and positive development action than Lawrence.

Between now and next January is a critical period for Lawrence and the University. A relative new chancellor has had a year to try to settle into his job, deal with a somewhat fractured faculty and get on with the job of building the university into a finer center of academic research excellence; Lawrence must find a talented individual to take over as Chamber president; hopefully the Lawrence city government can show evidence of vision, action and a commitment to help build Lawrence into a truly outstanding university city; and, citizens of Lawrence need to recapture the pride and excitement of years ago relative to their city and its potential. They should demand more from city leaders.

The importance of the search for a new Chamber president cannot be over emphasized. Hopefully, those with this responsibility will realize the seriousness of their task.

What limitations do they have in the level of salary and incentives? How do they overcome the very real negative reputation of Lawrence’s city government as a major hindrance in building Lawrence into a better community? How about the “town-gown” relationship that used to be one of the outstanding features of Lawrence but which has deteriorated in recent years? Does the recent defeat of the sales tax proposition to expand jail facilities and build much improved mental health facilities send a negative message?

There are many “negatives” that could be dredged up to paint a cloudy or fuzzy picture of Lawrence, however, there are far more positives that should be used to tell the Lawrence-KU story. Unfortunately, these positives are not being touted or told, expressed and delivered in an effective manner.

The combined assets of Lawrence and KU should be packaged with city and KU leaders working as a team. What’s good for KU should be good for Lawrence and vice-versa.

For example, the excellence of the University’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and School of Pharmacy is known throughout the world. The record of research and life-saving products coming out of this area is superb. Graduates of these programs excel throughout the world. Those in the business of turning this research into products certainly know of the excellence of researchers at KU.

It seems a powerful and effective sales team composed of senior members of the Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Pharmacy Schools, city leaders and even top state officials could present a solid, effective sales message to pharmacy-related executives to build facilities in Lawrence. The same reasoning would seem applicable to those in the field of special education and other top ranked programs at KU.

Lawrence and the University should be looked upon as an ideal site for high tech, research-based industry.

It’s got all the necessary ingredients aside from one very critical part of the package: leadership.

However, it’s not going to get done with a continuation of the hit and miss, poorly coordinated, less-than-professional approach of recent years. There must be some changes with a new, positive outlook and powerful message by Lawrence and KU officials.

Lawrence and KU have been spinning their wheels far too long.