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Lawrence City Commission candidates talk economic development at Chamber’s forum

In between questions about economic issues in Lawrence, such as childcare, local purchasing policy, and the Downtown Master Plan, City Commission candidates explained what role they thought the commission should have in the business community in Wednesday’s forum, hosted by The Chamber of Lawrence. 

The forum served as the last opportunity for candidates to make their priorities known before early voting began. Hugh Carter, the Chamber’s vice president of external affairs, moderated the forum. Five of the six candidates attended, with Stuart Boley absent due to a previous commitment. 

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Carter asked candidates what role they imagined city commissioners having in attracting new businesses and jobs to Lawrence, as well as cultivating the city’s existing ones.

Milton Scott noted that the city’s role is a “very important” one. He said sustaining the businesses that are already here and providing wages for those who work in Lawrence should be an ongoing dialogue, as well as considering how the community can be better marketed to attract visitors. 

“We should talk the talk and walk the walk,” Scott said. “We encourage and we support businesses, and we should look at incentives and how we can keep businesses in the community, and expand that diversity of businesses and the advertising of businesses as well.”  

Amber Sellers began by pointing out that the state of Kansas has its own growth framework and is ranked 38th in startup job creation. The city’s role in carrying out the state’s plan for growth in target sectors — such as transportation, aerospace, and food and agriculture — is to advocate for tax incentives and programs that will attract businesses in alignment with that state blueprint, she said. 

“We do have a blueprint from the state that’s telling us that these are the things that enhance and elevate what we are already doing well in this state,” Sellers said. “As the city, we need to look at that relationship with those communities partners to ensure that we are doing that work.”  

Bart Littlejohn said that finding ways to relocate businesses to Lawrence while retaining what the city has is “always a part of the process.” Finding a healthy mix of lower-paying jobs and jobs that make up to $60,000 or $70,000 a year is also important, he said, in order to create business flexibility.  

“I’m also really encouraged by our community partnerships I see going on right now, especially the ones with KU and Haskell,” Littlejohn continued. “We need to take advantage of every resource that we have in this town so working together is the best way to do it.” 

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Lisa Larsen said she is a firm believer in the role of government in the community’s economic development. That role, she said, is to make sure the right infrastructure is in place for both new and existing businesses to thrive and grow. 

“When I talk about making sure that infrastructure in place, I don’t mean just the hard assets and I don’t mean just the streets numbers,” Larsen said. “I mean that the partnerships that we formed for those who are pulling, trying to pull in those businesses.”  

Ma’Ko’Quah Jones said there should be a focus on drawing a “broad range” of businesses to the city, pointing out that job availability for community members is one of the key areas impacts whether people can live in Lawrence and pay for their homes. Sustainability is another important aspect of the city’s economic development, she said — businesses that aren’t environmentally sustainable mean more work and costs from the city.  

“There’s a lot of remediation and mitigation dollars that go into businesses that aren’t environmentally sustainable, and long after they’re gone, that’s what the City Commission has to deal with,” Jones said. “Businesses that are cleaner-minded are going to have that environmentally sustainable attitude that I’m pushing for Lawrence to have, so that long after they’re gone, we can run other businesses and not have to worry about the cleanup.” 

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Key voting dates:

• The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 12. (Visit ksvotes.org to learn more)
• Advance voting begins Wednesday, Oct. 13. You can request a ballot via ksvotes.org.
• The deadline to request an advance ballot to be mailed to you is Tuesday, Oct. 26.
• Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Need help? Check out this awesome page of voting resources from the Lawrence Public Library.

More 2021 election coverage:

Lawrence City Commission candidates talk economic development at Chamber’s forum

In between questions about economic issues in Lawrence, such as childcare, local purchasing policy, and the Downtown Master Plan, City Commission candidates explained what role they thought the commission should have in the business community in Wednesday’s forum, hosted by The Chamber of Lawrence. 

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