A thriving, economically progressive community and enviable quality of life for our citizens.
Promote economic development in Lawrence and Douglas County through the retention and expansion of existing businesses, industries and new entrepreneurial business opportunities, the attraction of high wage business and industry and encouraging the retention and attraction of local spend.
Social capital is the fabric used to weave a strong community and no one boasts a longer history of leveraging social capital for the community’s common good than The Chamber in Lawrence, Kansas.
For more than 136 years, the Chamber has held fast to its original purpose as stated in its Articles of Incorporation: To advance the commercial, industrial, educational and civic interests of the City of Lawrence. To understand what the Chamber has represented, how it has brought together resources for the common good and what it aspires to be, you need to look no further than its members and leaders, who have led the way in building the Lawrence economy and improving the quality of life for its residents.
During the Depression, the Chamber initiated a program to pay men who had lost their jobs $2 per day in Chamber script to work on city improvement tasks. The script was redeemable for food, fuel and clothing at Lawrence merchants. This kind of innovative problem-solving carried through other challenging times for the Lawrence community.
Hank Booth, long-time Chamber members and former Chamber vice president for government affairs, remembers when the flood of 1951 wreaked devastation on the community. Booth’s family owned the local radio station, which lent time to other area stations that had been knocked off the air. The spirit of collaboration was extended in the best interests of the community – to keep people informed of the events that were transpiring. The Chamber helped, too, providing information that evacuees and recruiting Lawrence businessman J.L. “Tommy” Constant to lead cleanup efforts. After the flood, the Chamber successfully lobbied for the creation of the present levee system and Clinton Reservoir.
Sue Hack, who is now the Chamber’s executive director for Leadership Lawrence and is a former mayor of the City of Lawrence, remembers the racial and political upheaval in the 1970s that rocked the Lawrence community. She was a recent graduate of the University of Kansas and had just started a career teaching history. The Chamber secured a grant from the Kansas Police Enforcement Act to provide the Menninger Police/Community Relations Program. This program facilitated understanding among diverse groups, bringing together politicians, KU representatives, law enforcement, businessmen, different races, and activist for frequent discussion sessions at the Chamber offices.
The Santa Fe Industrial Park was initiated in 1956 and opened in 1960. By the mid-to-late 1970’s, the park was nearly full and the Chamber began efforts to identify additional land for economic development. Gary Toebben led the Chamber from 1981 to 1999. His name became synonymous with the Chamber and he worked diligently with other leaders to build the Lawrence community. The Chamber developed partnerships with public and private entities to bring business to Lawrence. The East Hills Industrial Park is the result of the Chamber’s proactive plan to recruit companies by providing land suitable for building and, in some cases, structures ready for lease or purchase. Additionally, in 1987, the Chamber was instrumental in encouraging the City’s investment in a new terminal at the Lawrence Municipal Airport, which had been in operation since 1929.
In recent years, the Chamber has struggled to communicate its efforts and to identify a leader to match the passion for the community displayed by Toebben in the 1980’s and ’90. However, that is changing. The Chamber has expanded the scope of its original mission to promote regional economic sustainability and is honing its focus on growth, leadership and advocacy to once again bring together resources that will build a thriving economy and promote an exceptional quality for life for Lawrence and Douglas County residents.
Today, the Chamber is embarking on a new era of community development activism to jumpstart the local economy. The Chamber is working collaboratively with the City of Lawrence, Douglas County, the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County (EDC), the Bioscience and Technology Business Center (BTBC), USD 497 and the KU Small Business Development Center, as well as other community organizations on multiple projects:
Growth. Leadership. Advocacy. It’s all happening at The Chamber in Lawrence, Kansas.