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Teamwork makes Lawrence a city on the move

by Jeffrey Bussgang and Wendy Estrella, Eagle Tribune

In office buildings throughout the city, few Boston business leaders have Lawrence on the brain. A city of 80,000 just 30 miles north of Boston, this old mill city is not something most movers and shakers in Boston think about. If they do, it’s likely in the context of last year’s gas explosions.

While Lawrence is a city on the rise, it is rarely connected to the growth and opportunity of Greater Boston. But a group of business and civic leaders from Lawrence and Boston, somewhat serendipitously, have come together to change that narrative.

Several Boston leaders became focused on Lawrence’s potential in early 2017, when the city became a hot topic of discussion as a Gateway City to watch at the Boston Foundation’s annual “Commonwealth Summit.” That spring, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera spoke at the Alliance for Business Leadership’s “Leader Lab,” and raised the concept of a “possibility gap” in his city — that while the raw materials for Lawrence’s success are largely in place, some people struggle to envision the wealth of possibilities ahead.

In the months that followed, a relationship was forged between the Alliance for Business Leadership, a progressive business group, and the Lawrence Partnership, a collaborative nonprofit dedicated to creating a thriving Lawrence.

That relationship sparked the development of Lawrence Leads, an executive education program hosted by Harvard Business School and designed to lift up a diverse group of 30 of the city’s business, civic, and nonprofit leaders as a key strategy of investment in the city. Over the course of seven months, the cohort came together in Lawrence to learn more about each other and about examples of success in their community, and spent five days in classrooms at Harvard Business School.

Participants also met with the team behind the launch of the Boston Public Market and the founders of Hack.Diversity, and they networked with more than 40 top business and civic leaders in Greater Boston.

Additionally, Lawrence Leads tackled systems change, such as small-business support and the opioid crisis. Lawyer Socrates De La Cruz worked alongside mill owner Marianne Paley Nadel on a comprehensive plan for downtown revitalization. City planner Jessica Andors worked alongside the director of the city’s workforce investment board, Abel Vargas, to craft a workforce development strategy emphasizing diversity and inclusion (Lawrence is 80 percent Latinx). Participants were encouraged to think about both how to grow their own organizations and how to make positive change in their community.

Lawrence boasts the homegrown talent necessary to chart its own path forward. Silos are breaking down, and key players from all corners of the city share an understanding that systemic change won’t come from a single leader, organization, or even sector.


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