Workforce: The Elephant in the Room!

Workforce: The Elephant in the Room!

Workforce: The elephant in the room
By Joe B. Kent

PROBLEM: WORKfORCE READINESS DISCONNECT

Following years of Memphis Corporate Community Leadership (MCCL) led fledgling and disconnected workforce development efforts, The County Workforce Ad Hoc Committee is intervening to address the local need and the MCCL elephant in the room. Disconnected MCCL efforts have helped to stifle local business and economic growth for a community in need. MCCL consists of Memphis Tomorrow, Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) and The Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. This disconnect occurs as workforce is the #1 priority in local economic development reform efforts.

MCCL has for example, strangely chose to work with a provider that lacks a track record of domestic United States experience in addressing workforce development. As these efforts fail to get results, MCCL has chosen not to course correct disconnected efforts. City Council legislative efforts over a year ago, seem to have been oddly stonewalled as well, while mysteriously ending without results. In the above video link, in the last agenda item, local educators, saddled with deficient and disconnected MCCL efforts, can be seen professionally begging for a centralized connected approach to workforce development. The lack of response to educators raising their hands for help with 2year college tuition paid for by the state is beyond baffling. 

Disconnected workforce development efforts seem to be preferred  by MCCL with the EDGE / Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW) Board choosing not to hold regular GMACW Board meetings. This occurs while the EDGE/GMACW Board, through inaction, leave 60,000 learners underserved while stifling workforce local solution availability and business growth needs dependent on a career ready workforce. In short, the EDGE/GMACW Board had 1 board meeting all last year, packed up and went straight to the house. 

Meanwhile, the Greater Memphis Chamber clamors for “alignment, alignment, alignment” to support workforce development efforts without articulating an alignment protocol.  And in County EDGE Ad Hoc committee, again continuing from previous City Council Committee unfinished work, calls for “soft skills” development and a connected approach to workforce readiness programming ring out.  

A connected workforce development approach to support economic development is not going to happen without – a Chamber articulated alignment protocol – projected employer demand data to define “soft skills” and knowledge requirements – and a common communication platform, at a minimum, to connect local workforce development efforts.  

So, what is the solution? A connected, data driven talent pipeline development system is consistently attempting to answer these questions: 1) What are employers demanding ? (Demand) 2) How ready is the workforce to meet employer demand ? (Supply) and 3) What are the career pathways to build workforce readiness to meet employer demand ? (Curriculum)

solution: connectivity

The solution for workforce readiness connectivity consists of fundamental non-negotiables while consistently addressing customer employer demand. Those non-negotiables include measured data  driven requirements, career pathways curriculum, professional development and marketing. These fundamental components support common language development for connecting communication across the professional community landscape which helps to facilitate implementation of countywide career readiness programming. A reputable common technology platform is desirable to increase efficiency, improve connected communication and to aggregate employment opportunities

But although a common technology platform is desirable having been locally requested in committee work by educators, presumably to decrease costs and improve communication, minimally, only a common “communication” platform is required for connecting workforce development efforts through career pathways. Effective communication is the critical element in connecting workforce development efforts. Technology increases the efficiency of mission critical communication while reducing implementation costs. 

While there are many ways to address the abovementioned non-negotiables, one way to accomplish this work is shown in the subsections below:

Data and Alignment Protocol   The Greater Memphis Chamber is the best organization to advocate on behalf of employers, specific workforce readiness requirements. Employers in a career pathways talent pipeline development system are the chief customers of the workforce development system. Employers buy the product of the system in the form of skilled labor through the payment of wages which support tax revenue and tuition to fund public and private education and workforce development initiatives.  

Given the former, a data informed return on investment (ROI) approach is needed to serve employers, learners and taxpayers based on the skills and knowledge purchased through the payment of wages by employers. While leveraging the adoption by the Strickland administration of the ACT Work Ready program, a Chamber advocated articulation of a connecting alignment protocol to the education and workforce development system could look something like the below: 

We at the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, offer employers a connected, aligned, data driven and nation leading career readiness platform. On behalf of employers, the Chamber requests the local education and workforce development system to consider employer demand and provide the following: 

The above is just one of several examples of what a Greater Memphis Chamber authored workforce development alignment protocol might look like. Such a protocol, fundamentally helps the education and workforce development system align its efforts to the needs of customer employers while considering the individual futures of learners. 

Curriculum A career pathways curriculum, which can be delivered across the K-Adult spectrum, consists of a sequence of connected learning experiences to achieve career readiness for a desired vocation(s). A career destination for this audience may include work after high school, an apprenticeship, internship, postsecondary vocational credential, associates, bachelors, masters or doctorate degree. This article considers career development strategies mostly for grades 8-Adult.

Given this and to achieve implementation, data informed career content must be infused into the standards aligned academic curriculum for all learners to serve talent pipeline development and retention needs. In this way, instructors are not asked to facilitate career readiness instruction in addition to the heavy academic curriculum delivery requirement. Career readiness programming is just part of the academic experience while helping to address the career counselor caseload.   

Career/ post-secondary exploration and planning along with in-demand skill development are seamlessly integrated into the standards based academic curriculum with connections to employment opportunities. Career content is informed by defined in-demand skills and knowledge data along with a variety of interest, observational, formative, summative and standardized assessments to evaluate the career readiness of learners.  

Equipped with the data, classroom instructors deliver daily classroom instruction through the lens of projected employer skill and knowledge demand. For example, through data use and based on its importance, “customer service” is thematically integrated throughout the career pathways curriculum for all learners which fills a gap in the Common Core standards aligned academic curriculum.  

In concert with the above proposed Chamber alignment protocol, a summative assessment could result in progress against or completion of a career planning portfolio. A career portfolio consists of standards aligned academic work to include but not limited to a career plan, resume, cover letter, selected career aligned budget summary, career exploration journaling, post-secondary exploration journaling, earned certificates, presentations and assessment inventories for learner interests and workplace preferences with aligned occupations.  

An example of a standardized assessment would be the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) which includes measured assessment in reading workplace documents, graphic literacy (charts/graphs/diagram interpretation) and applied math. With certificate award levels of bronze, silver, gold and platinum, the NCRC can be used to determine career readiness and foundational skill proficiency for a range of occupations based on award level. This process helps to connect workforce development efforts using common language between educators, workforce development practitioners and employers. The NCRC consists of 3 of the 8 available assessments from the ACT WorkKeys  battery 

The other five assessments which can also be used to determine career readiness for various occupations include applied technology, business writing, workplace observation, fit and talent. For example, in addition to the NCRC, often used for manufacturing occupations, “workplace observation” measures observing, following, understanding and evaluating processes. Of course, all earned assessment certificates, to include the NCRC, would be a component in a learner’s career portfolio 

To learn more about the ACT NCRC / WorkKeys and common language development, please see the following Gwen Ifill video 

Marketing Plan and Professional Development  –  The previously discussed sections would inform the development of a connected workforce development marketing plan. A plan would then inform roll out and professional development which could occur in the form of “Career Content Academies” as well as other promotional activities. 

Career Content Academies are a minimum 3-day session that involves connecting participants with the student / career seeker work of career development in self-exploration, career exploration and career pathways planning. Executives/administrators participate in a ½ kickoff that precedes the in-depth career content academy. During the ½ day session participants are acquainted with regional labor market information (LMI). Regional LMI supports the common language backbone for connecting communication across professionally diverse stakeholder audiences involving academia, business and government while informing the local career pathways curriculum. Regional LMI gets everyone in the community on the same page while using a common workforce development language.  

Addressing common language development is important because language gaps naturally develop across the professional spectrum. Most educator career paths result in going to school, going to college and going to school to work. This path prevents educators from acquiring the language of careers and the traditional workplace as they develop the language of academia.  Career content academies help educators fill the workplace language and knowledge gap by helping them connect the language of careers with classroom implementation strategies. Participants outside of education develop an understanding of the education workplace while making connections with academic language.  

This collaborative approach strengthens connections, communication, common language and partnership development. Typically, career content academy participants include human resource professionals, workforce and education career counselors and instructors. The former helps to support a deep implementation of career pathways into daily instructional practice while connecting community partnerships in support of regional career pathways and economic growth.  

Measurement

Measurement would ideally occur using a common technology platform to reduce implementation costs while improving connected communication using web-based dashboard technology. A common technology platform would result in a wealth of informative centralized data to include but not limited to 1) centralized job board 2) projected occupational, skill and knowledge demand 3) career portfolio progress 4) ACT NCRCs awarded 5) employer partnerships, 6) occupations and career pathways explored 7) aggregated population interest inventory 8) individual school usage data and etc.  

This measurement along with a formal Chamber alignment protocol and marketing plan can be used as a sales tool in economic recruitment efforts to insure corporate prospects of a coherent, measured and quantifiable approach to meeting their workforce needs. In this way, during a sales presentation  to a corporate prospect, the Chamber might say:  

We in Memphis are the National leaders in career education with more education/business partnerships of record of any County in the Country. Aligned to employers  needs, our workforce development system is annually awarding 10,000 career pathways credentials and 2,000 Bronze 5,000 Silver, 2500 Gold and 500 Platinum ACT NCRC’s. And finally, customer service”  is integrated into the curriculum for all learners.  

Nationally accessible, external measurement for standardized assessment could be accomplished using the  ACT WorkKeys dashboard. While there are other reputable career readiness assessments, the ACT NCRC WorkKeys system has been locally adopted and is the most widely used career readiness system in the country while providing a portable credential to ACT NCRC holders.

conclusion

Inaction on the workforce front by Memphis Corporate Community Leadership has been scary confusing. But with a youthful population as an economic advantage –  connected workforce development solutions available and  both Memphis and Shelby County Mayors trumpeting workforce development in support of economic development – hopefully, needed change is finally on the horizon for the benefit of taxpayer justice and all concerned.  

Research based references can be provided upon request for the instructional design contained in this article.

joe b. kent
Guest Blogger
Mr. Joe B. Kent has worked throughout the country on workforce and economic development projects and is a reform activist in Memphis. Joe B. has a BBA in Finance, Masters in Instructional Technology and is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator with an emphasis on labor market information.

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EDGE Task Force – Pulling It All Together

EDGE Task Force – Pulling It All Together

EDGE Task force
pulling it all together
By Joe Kent – Guest Blogger

This article is being brought to you by HomeTown Home Services, Is it time for a Home Improvement?

EDGE TASK FORCE: PULLING TOGETHER
New local Legislative oversight is resulting in significant community benefits by publicly revealing opportunities for economic development improvement. This occurs after the fifth County EDGE Task Force meeting as Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) Task Force work begins to finalize in both City and County chambers.
Most revealing are gaps in economic development work that comes from a hyper-focus on excessive locally focused corporate / real estate tax incentives as the economic drivers of workforce development, public transit, small business and corporate site development are substantively ignored. It is clear lacking are a coherent economic development plan and a more comprehensive approach to economic development as documented in the Community Lift study entitled – “Searching for Economic Development Equity”. A plan would of course include a measurable definition for economic development. 
Local economic development surveys, on the record public testimony and task force deliberation can be leveraged to drive the expeditious development of a coherent plan. The Greater Memphis Chamber has been  established as the lead on economic development efforts while task force work leans toward optimizing the current Memphis/Shelby County EDGE organization in administering public resource programs to support economic development. 
Eric Miller, Greater Memphis Chamber Senior Vice President for Economic Development, in recent testimony focused on simplicity while referencing the Amazon Road Map community / economic development approach. And Dexter Muller, a local economic development expert, laid out an organizing plan framework that includes: sites, target industry sectors, workforce development and marketing.
A potential economic development definition emerged from Miller’s task force testimony as the business of bringing jobs to Memphis and Shelby County to help people improve their lives. This corresponds with the definition of the only known public survey on economic development conducted by the social media group and economic development thought leader Memphis Raise Your Expectations (MRYE) of economic development being about improving the social well being of people. 
Meeting Recap – EDGE Task Force 5
Harold Byrd, representing the Shelby County Chamber Alliance, led in testimony with a powerful video showcasing Shelby County as an economic development destination. Byrd championed improvement on education and legislative oversight while advocating for statewide Medicaid expansion. When asked about ways to improve economic development efforts, Byrd simply said “communicate like you are doing now” which goes to the benefits of current legislative oversight under the leadership of Commissioner Willie Brooks. 
To synergize efforts across Shelby County, Byrd referenced current work to formally involve the Shelby County Chamber Alliance in the Greater Memphis Chamber One Stop Shop for economic development recruitment which involves a range of local stakeholders. Similar to Eric Miller, Byrd advised against the creation of a  separate Memphis Industrial Development Board while preferring the current Memphis/Shelby EDGE structure. And, upon questioning from Commissioner Michael Whaley on a connected Shelby County wide approach to education/workforce development, Byrd did not answer although Byrd’s Bartlett Chamber did successfully lead the creation of the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council (GMMDC). GMMDC connects education and workforce development efforts with the thriving Bartlett area medical device industry. 
John Zennah, Director of Memphis/Shelby Planning and Development presented the Memphis 3.0 plan thus far which stresses investments in community planning, education, small business and infrastructure to support local economic development. One attention grabbing data point cited from Zennah’s presentation shows a 50% decrease in major corporate expansions and relocations from 2000-2012 while 72% of national job growth comes from small to mid-size firm expansions from 2009-2014.  
Zennah’s data seems to confirm concerns by Leslie Smith of the local entrepreneurial engine Epicenter Memphis. Questioning EDGE performance from 2013 in the City EDGE Task Force, Smith remarked “what is the focus of this group?” It would appear the focus is misinformed corporate / real estate tax incentives potentially based on the counsel of EDGE’s birthing organization in the highly deficient Memphis Tomorrow CEO organization. 
Taskforce members present included: task force Chairman Willie Brooks, Commissioner Reginald Milton, Les Binkley, Calvin Anderson, Al Bright, Carolyn Hardy and Ron Belz. Absent were Cary Vaughn, Eric Roberston and Jack Sammons. Commissioner Michael Whaley and Commission Chairman Van Turner attended and participated in questioning.
Pulling It Together
Using the above definitions of economic development, task force testimony and Dexter Muller’s plan framework, opportunities to improve local economic development efforts while using a connected countywide approach as championed by county task force member Cary Vaughn can be articulated as follows:
Sites – A centralized database of available sites would be developed specifically for economic development with public funding support provided for manufacturing site development while prioritizing road projects to support target areas for industrial development.
Target Industry Sectors – Support for local small business would be prioritized while responsible smart incentives for targeted industry recruitment would be determined by the Mass Economics study currently underway. The small business focus would align with Community Lift and Memphis 3.0 research. And corporate recruit prospects would be protected with confidentiality while being charged affordable fees if any at all given the competitive landscape. ( I will camp out waiting for the Mass Economics study as if for Led Zeppelin tickets)
 Workforce Development – A think BIG nation leading career education initiative should be considered given Shelby County’s youthful population advantage confirmed in testimony while developing the existing workforce, talent pipeline for the future and local community assets to attract talent. Workforce was stressed as the top priority throughout task force work which was also validated by Bradley Jackson, President of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, in a recent Memphis presentation.
Roles should be clearly defined for the Workforce. Investment Network (WIN) and The Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW) that are understood by all. Ideally, WIN would focus its workforce development efforts on out of school audiences and GMACW on in school audiences. The local education and economic development system needs an opportunity intervention in the implementation of a connected education to employment system to leverage Shelby County’s youth population advantage in support of economic development efforts. Stifled local small business solutions have been available for some time to solve the problem but lack of support for local small business has been culturally nomed in Memphis in this case at the expense of 60,000 learners.
Additionally, community leadership organizations such as the Greater Memphis Chamber need to advocate for a specific dedicated funding source to support adequate public transit that supports a more reliable workforce while improving community assets to decrease transportation costs and improve quality of life while attracting  talent to the area.
Marketing – Along with Memphis 3.0 and from Eric Miller’s testimony, the Amazon Road Map community/economic development policy pronouncement of the University of Memphis should be leveraged in developing the Memphis/Shelby County economic development product. Miller’s Amazon Road map testimony coincides with recommendations made to the City Council and County Commission by MRYE. 
The Amazon Road Map consists of the following community/economic development categories: 1) prepared career ready workforce 2) public transit 3) quality university, 4) quality of life, 5) efficient air travel and 6) responsible economic development tax incentives. 
And finally, funding support should be provided to the  Greater Memphis Chamber by the City and County in support of marketing and industry recruitment efforts. 
The lack of a comprehensive measurable definition and plan for economic development along with informed legislative oversight and communication seemed to emerge as the chief challenges of current economic development efforts. A coherent plan combined with legislative oversight and improved communication will drastically improve local economic development efforts. 
Oversight, Communication, and Measurement
Given the benefits of this new legislative economic development oversight, quarterly City and County legislative oversight should continue while involving The Greater Memphis Chamber and EDGE. The Chamber One Stop Shop along with the  Shelby County Joint Economic Development Commission should be vigorously engaged to improve communication and connect economic development efforts throughout Memphis and Shelby County. 
As for primary measurement, Memphis Corporate Community Leadership (MCCL) Measured would propose net tax proceeds to align with the economic development definition of improving the lives and social well-being of people. Net tax proceeds would result from a calculation that would measure tax proceeds resulting from above/below Shelby County average percentage peer total wage growth less job-related tax incentives. 

The data for total Shelby County wage and average peer wage growth would be collected from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics program of Quarterly Census of Employment Wages. Shelby County peer counties would be identified using the peers as identified by The Memphis Economy of The University of Memphis. MCCL Measured is the first ever and only locally available measurement tool for the MCCL complex regarding taxpayer funded initiatives.

Governance and EDGE Board
While local concerns regarding EDGE seemed to start with governance, that concern waned as task force work progressed. However, instead of the current dual mayoral reporting structure, it would seem EDGE Board  management over the EDGE CEO would be more in alignment with traditional management structures. Perhaps both City and County Mayors could be added as ex-officio EDGE Board members which would give them votes on an EDGE Board with management authority over the EDGE CEO. 
Regarding the EDGE Board, without going into previously covered performance issues, it’s past time for the following EDGE Board members to be replaced: Al Bright, Tom Dyer,  Natasha Donerson, Jack Moore, Mark Halperin, Johnny Moore and Larry Jackson. 
These board members have served on the tax abating EDGE Board for well over four years without term limits. Their departure is needed as a fundamental system check while replacing the corporate / real estate heavy EDGE Board with a more professionally diverse board. Representatives for a new more balanced board would represent professional interest from education, workforce development, public transit and small business in addition to corporate/real estate interests. 
Conclusion – Good News!

 

Local economic development efforts can only improve with informed legislative oversight, a coherent plan supported with a measurable definition of economic development and improved communication across Shelby County. This will allow connected economic development efforts to pull in the same direction for the benefit of all in Memphis and Shelby County. Let’s get started !

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County Edge Task Force: Economic Development?

County Edge Task Force: Economic Development?

County Edge Task Force:
Economic development?
By Joe Kent
The County EDGE Task Force committee plowed ahead this Tuesday without knowing why they were meeting. This became clear when committee member Ron Belz asked at the end of the meeting for a definition of economic development and a how it was to be measured which resulted in no substantive responses. 

Memphis Raise Your Expectations (MRYE), a social media grassroots organization, has become the new local thought leader on economic development. About a month ago, with a definition in hand in public comment, MRYE addressed the County Commission while stating the need for a definition of economic development to guide local policy work. For some reason this was not acted upon leaving current EDGE Task Force work somewhat directionless. 

Meeting Recap
Roles between the Greater Memphis Chamber and the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) were made clear for the community with the Chamber leading all economic recruiting efforts. Al Bright, EDGE Board Chairman, continued his groundless claims  of “good but not great” performance by EDGE as calls for a new EDGE Board after serving seven years without term limits went unaddressed by the committee. This points to a rigged unchecked system.
Cary Vaughn consistently insisted on better communication and  true connectivity throughout Shelby County for economic development work. Les Binkley stated the need for understanding and accessing the corporate recruitment opportunity pipeline. And Chairman Willie Brooks helped to answer communication concerns by asking the Greater Memphis Chamber to appear before the County Commission quarterly along with EDGE to report on their economic development efforts.  
Also in attendance at the meeting were Carolyn Hardy and Calvin Anderson. Absent from the meeting were Jack Sammons, Commissioner Reginald Milton and Commission Chairman Van Turner.
EDGE and Chamber testimony revealed a new importance on a corporate site availability database to support corporate recruitment which the Chamber is aggressively addressing while workforce concerns to serve local economic growth demand unnecessarily remain due to what appears to be a deliberate lack of course correction by community leadership.  
In fact, after four years under the Memphis Tomorrow birthed Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW) there is not a widely articulated education to employment approach to support local occupational demand. This lack of approach occurs as Memphis compared to other cities has an economic advantage in a youthful population as peer cities face an aging population. This fact was confirmed in Chamber testimony while being supported by widely recognized data. 
Workforce and Deficient Execution
GMACW, a conceptual winner with aims needed by the community to align education to employment efforts, has failed to execute. GMACW has been a victim of total mismanagement and inaction by Memphis Corporate Community Leadership (MCCL) while being saddled with an unproven vendor by MCCL “visionaries”.
To make matters worse, when given the opportunity to course correct and get work on track, MCCL has chosen to leave 60,000 youth underserved with connected education to employment services. This baffling lack of course correction occurs as local small business solutions are stifled by the MCCL which leads one to conclude that the MCCL is setting the cultural norm for local declining small business vitality at the expense of 60,000 learners and a business community in need of workers.
Organizations that have participated in the failed execution include Memphis Tomorrow, Greater Memphis Chamber/ Chairman’s Circle, EDGE and most of all the Hyde Foundation with representatives serving on Memphis Tomorrow, Memphis Chamber/ Chairman’s Circle, Complete Tennessee and The State Collaborative for Reforming Education (SCORE). Complete Tennessee works on a statewide basis to increase post-secondary completion rates and SCORE is a statewide educational policy think tank.
And finally, in hopes of getting answers from local subject matter experts, smart concerns expressed in committee by Chairman Brooks on a common job board for applicants is as easy as selecting from a few market leaders in job board technology. Two of those vendors include Indeed and ZipRecruiter. A couple of technical notes here. Jobs4Tn, the local workforce development platform routinely aggregates job opportunities from Indeed and other job boards. These national job boards advertise job opportunities locally and throughout the country which is a need of local industry. And job boards are not career navigation systems but are typically components of such systems that are needed for instructional delivery in a connected education to employment system. 
Defining Economic Development and Measurement
As stated, MRYE proposed a definition of economic development to the County Commission based on the only known locally conducted public survey on the matter. The survey resulted in the following definition: Economic development is a community policy intervention with aims of improving the social well being of its people. The MRYE survey results can be found here. 
As far a measurement, Memphis Corporate Community Leadership (MCCL) Measured would propose in alignment with the above definition, net tax proceeds. Net tax proceeds would result from a calculation that would measure tax proceeds resulting from above Shelby County peer total wage growth less job-related tax incentives. The data for total Shelby County wage and peer wage growth would be collected from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics program of Quarterly Census of Employment Wages. MCCL Measured is the first ever and only locally available measurement tool for the MCCL complex regarding taxpayer funded initiatives.
Conclusion
Better communication and customer-centric process reform appear to be moving forward within the local economic development ecosystem. But defining and measuring economic development remains an outstanding issue along with a thoughtful workforce education to employment connection to fuel local economic growth. To that extent, MRYE believes a focus on career ready education, public transit, quality of life and small business development are the priorities to drive local economic growth. To be successful, this work will fundamentally require defining and measuring local economic development efforts that take these priorities into consideration. 

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joe b. kent
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Mr. Joe B. Kent has worked throughout the country on workforce and economic development projects and is a reform activist in Memphis. Joe B. has a BBA in Finance, Masters in Instructional Technology and is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator with an emphasis on labor market information.

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EDGE TASK FORCE: A REBALANCING ACT #BALANCED

EDGE TASK FORCE: A REBALANCING ACT #BALANCED

EDGE TASK FORCE:

A REBALANCING ACT

By Joe Kent – Guest Blogger

The Shelby County Ad Hoc Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) Task Force met this Wednesday for the heavy lift of studying EDGE reform and rebalancing local economic development efforts. EDGE administers both economic and workforce development programming for Shelby County and the City of Memphis while using taxpayer funding.

Most encouraging from the meeting under Commissioner Willie Brook’s leadership was the desire to work in partnership with the Memphis City Council, a  time table of 30 days for the task force to finish its work and the sincere will to optimize economic development efforts in Shelby County.

Most discouraging was the lack of participation by the Memphis City Council, over representation on the task force of the real estate industry, lack of middle-class small business representation and lack of  workforce development subject matter presenters scheduled for future meetings. The former occurs as both Mayors state that workforce development is most important in local economic development efforts.

Task force members include Commissioner Willie Brooks (Chairman), Commissioner Reginald Milton, Commissioner Van Turner, Al Bright (Attorney), Calvin Anderson (Retired -Insurance), Jack Sammons (Manufacturing) Cary Vaughn (Ministry), Carolyn Hardy (Real Estate and Logistics) Ron Belz (Real Estate) and Les Binkley (Real Estate).

Needed study work is focused on three areas to include: 1) clearly defining Greater Memphis Chamber and EDGE roles, 2) having an efficient customer-centric “one stop shop” process to facilitate economic development programming and 3) workforce development.

A review of economic modeling / accurate accounting measurement, taxpayer funded grant performance, and more externally targeted tax incentives away from excessive locally targeted tax incentives did not make the short list of study items. These study items are important because based on the data poor grant performance and excessive locally targeted tax incentives can be shown to have negatively impacted local economic development efforts.

Local tax incentives consistently benefit the real estate industry which is only 1 of 10 major industry sectors contributing over $1B in total annual wages to the local economy. This reality and over representation of the real estate industry on the EDGE Task Force (3 of 7 non-elected) points to the  potential for imbalance in local economic development planning efforts which should it occur hurts all to include the real estate industry.

The Data

Unlike Detroit or Pittsburgh, the Memphis decline has systematically occurred without an external event over a  number of years that spans elected official terms. For example and thankfully, there has yet to have been an external threat to FedEx’s leadership in the transportation and logistics industry which would certainly negatively impact the local community. This fact points concerns inward to Memphis Corporate Community Leadership and Memphis Tomorrow that spans elected official terms. Memphis Tomorrow, a local CEO organization, has guided economic and community development efforts for almost 20 years through the creation and oversight of a growing web of government funded non-profits.

Memphis Tomorrow creates non-profits and their members, associates and/or staff sit on the non-profit boards supposedly to provide oversight and guidance for the effective execution of community and economic development programming. In this way, through Memphis Tomorrow advocacy efforts, EDGE and the Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW) were created.

Fundamentally, both organizations are thoughtful and needed in EDGE to provide an efficient “one stop shop” to support economic development and GMACW to provide connected education to employment programming. But the data shows poor execution resulting in self-inflicted wounds to the local community as the same people rotate from board to board. This appears to have resulted in a culture closed to new ideas and timely course correction which leads to a lack of vitality, stagnation and decline.

Workforce Data

With 15,000 open jobs, recently, in a Memphis Business Journal article entitled “Mired in Red Tape”, both Mayors agreed that workforce development is most important in the City’s economic development efforts. At the same time, with the EDGE administered GMACW Board not holding meetings and considering available solutions, closed Memphis corporate community leadership has failed to course correct and engage the work to better serve the business community and employers’ needs. This has led to disconnected efforts that can be referenced in the above articles.

GMACW’s deficient grant performance against the State of Tennessee Labor Alignment and Employment Program (LEAP) grant contributes to the disconnect. Following the completion of the LEAP grant in a 2017, a Complete Tennessee Report, an organization that works to improve post-secondary completion rates, stated that local institutions voiced concerns about understanding Shelby County’s labor market priorities.  The purpose of the LEAP grant was in large part to provide institutions with an understanding of labor market priorities while connecting local education to employment efforts. Based on the report and the above articles this work has not been accomplished leaving an estimated 60,000 learners unserved.

Disconnected efforts contribute to 15,000 unfilled jobs and poor GMACW grant performance can be shown to result in an approximate $15M recurring annual Memphis/Shelby tax revenue shortfall.

Slow Economic Growth Data

This spreadsheet quantitatively validates the work contained in the below graph. The data was sourced from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment Wages (QCEW) program. The graph shows total annual wages paid growth rate per year in Shelby County versus Shelby County’s peers as identified by The Memphis Economy of the University of Memphis.

Shelby County total wages paid growth rate trails the average of its peers by approximately 7% with 21.15% total wage growth since 2010-17 (EDGE began in 2011). Shelby County peers had an average growth rate of 28.18%.

Had Shelby County achieved peer average growth of 28.18%, total wages paid would have been $1.57B higher annually in Shelby County with Memphis/Shelby County tax revenue being approximately $47M higher on a recurring annual basis than it is today. The below graph shows deficient Shelby County wage growth accelerating when compared to its peers’ average growth rate.  

Small Business Data

The below graph shows declining Memphis small business vitality when compared to 106 metros during an improving economic cycle. The source of this data is the American Cities Business Journal (ACBJ) parent to the Memphis Business Journal (MBJ). A small business vitality index was not published in 2015 so the 101 ranking of 2014 was assumed. 

This trend line graph is concerning because typically local economic growth comes mostly from small business. Local small business is less likely to demand tax incentives while further diversifying the local economy. The following ACBJ links provide the data sources for the below graph with the 2016 rankings contained in the 2017 rankings link: 2012 Rankings  2013 Rankings 2014 Rankings 2017 Rankings.

The decline from the below average 67 ranking to 106 ranking among 106 metros in small business vitality can be shown to represent a decline in small business payroll of $679M of the $1.57B and $20M of the $47M as previously mentioned in recurring annual Memphis/Shelby County tax revenue shortfalls. This analysis confirms the importance of small business in the overall local economy.

The below average growth and declining small business vitality point to local policy and business culture as potential root causes of locally deficient economic development outcomes.

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Policy and Implementation Concerns

The excessive locally targeted retention payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) program can be referenced as a policy concern. Retention PILOTs unlike expansion PILOTs abate already existing taxes against existing jobs for corporations to keep operations in Shelby County. These abatements also serve commercial real estate investor interests with the benefit of long term corporate lease tenants.

The problem is that the abatements are justified using incomplete accounting that recognizes existing tax revenue as “new local tax revenue received” while failing to account for 1) some probability of company retention without a retention PILOT but with an expansion PILOT for new jobs 2) the economic impact of the remaining workforce upon a company departure and 3) economic impact of forgone investments into the community. When properly accounting for retention PILOTs over the last seven years, the estimated Memphis/Shelby County tax loss is approximately $250M+ compared to the erroneous and lofty  $600M gain EDGE claims. This results in an estimated $850M overstatement of EDGE projected tax revenue.

Additional policy concerns regarding excessive tax incentives relate to small business vitality. In a 2015 Good Jobs First  study regarding corporate tax incentives, many small business representatives say “spending on incentives for big businesses strain the tax base for public goods such as education and infrastructure that benefit all employers.” This is not to suggest that responsible tax incentives for new industry recruitment are not needed. But that excessive incentives that abate existing taxes for local companies and residential PILOTs in a hot housing market are likely negatively impacting small business and local economic development efforts. Such a policy environment appears not to provide a culture for improving small business vitality.

And finally, local real estate investors consistently benefit from local economic development policy in an environment that seems to define real estate development as economic development. The EDGE Task Force should consider adopting a definition for economic development to help guide EDGE reform efforts.

Proposed Solutions

Converge Efforts – While calling for a new EDGE Board, The Memphis City Council should join County EDGE Task Force efforts to optimize EDGE as a “one stop shop” while avoiding redundancy and yet another study.

Get Real – Al Bright, EDGE Board Chairman, remarked in the task force meeting that “EDGE efforts have been good but not great”. That statement does not appear to be grounded in any type of data supported reality. The data as previously discussed show EDGE efforts to be deficient but not good. And get real with the EDGE accounting and measurement.

Define Economic Development – Define “economic development” to guide task force work and defend against imbalances in planning efforts based on historic efforts that seem to define real estate development as economic development. The EDGE Task Force might consider the following definition to help formulate balanced economic development policy: Economic development is a community policy intervention endeavor with aims of improving the economic and social well-being of its people. This definition aligns with  economists Steven Sheffrin and Authur O’Sullivan, from their book Economics: Principles in Action. The former was the resulting definition of the only known public survey on economic development conducted by the social media group Memphis Raise Your Expectations (MRYE).

Emphasize Workforce Development – Emphasize workforce development for a change in economic development efforts based on 15,000 job openings and public statements by both Mayors. Determine what happened to cause workforce development efforts to struggle, not course correct and leave an estimated 60,000 students unserved so that it’s not repeated. Both Mayors offices should have intake reports that document public concerns raised about GMACW filed two years ago.

Consider Culture – It’s the culture stupid ! The small business vitality data points to the local business culture as a potential root cause for declining vitality. An unsupported middle-class small business sector results in the population either falling into poverty or leaving the City which occurs under the radar. Both outcomes are undesirable.

Conclusion

The work of the EDGE Task Force is vitally important to the community. The City Council should join the County EDGE Task Force in optimizing the potential of EDGE as a “one stop shop” for economic development programming. 

Strong steps should be taken to emphasize workforce and small business economic development programming. If 3,000 of 15,000 more jobs were filled and the small business vitality levels were at previous 2012 ACBJ levels, based on analysis, total wages would be $800M higher. That is 50% of the $1.57B wage deficit that comes from deficient wage growth and equates to $24M in increased Memphis/Shelby County tax revenue.

Such a shift would require decreased emphasis on internally targeted tax incentives for corporations and real estate investors while driving balanced economic development policy. Balanced economic development policy would emphasize workforce and small business development as cornerstones to economic development policy while ending excessive retention and residential PILOTs. Tax incentives would be reserved for external recruitment, large local expansions and planned inner city redevelopment.

A convergent EDGE “one stop shop” supported with balanced economic development policy is vital to successful local economic development reform efforts.

joe b. kent

Guest Blogger

Mr. Joe B. Kent has worked throughout the country on workforce and economic development projects and is a reform activist in Memphis. Joe B. has a BBA in Finance, Masters in Instructional Technology and is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator with an emphasis on labor market information.

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REGIONAL TALENT PIPELINE DEVELOPMENT: THE AGE OF AGILITY

REGIONAL TALENT PIPELINE DEVELOPMENT: THE AGE OF AGILITY

REGIONAL TALENT PIPELINE DEVELOPMENT:

THE AGE OF AGILITY

By Joe Kent – Guest Blogger

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Sponsored locally by HRO Partners and Jaguar/Land Rover Bluff City, the nation touring Age of Agility education to employment conference was just held in Memphis. The conference encourages a regional conversation around human talent pipeline development in support of regional economic development goals.

The conference was encouraging based on Tennessee being newly recognized as a leader in educational reform while the University of Memphis fires on all cylinders with innovative partnerships and offerings that keep student costs down. Educators listening to customer employer needs and employers being more involved in the talent pipeline development effort were consistent themes. Largely unanswered concerns from audience members were around specific next steps to get industry more involved with local education. This concern will be addressed later in this article in concert with discussion involving local workforce development organizations in the Workforce Investment Network (WIN) and the Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW).

At the conference, industry employers were represented by Chris Winton VP of FedEx Human Resources, Gretchen Stroud VP of Hilton Learning and Bradley Jackson President of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. Education was represented by Dr. David Rudd President of the University of Memphis, Dr. Candice McQueen, Commissioner of Tennessee Department of Education and Mike Krause, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

Business and Education

From business, Jackson discussed how workforce preparedness has grown in importance in recent years. Winton and Stroud stated that college degrees were much less important today while stressing the importance of true skill attainment that includes soft skills and career pathways counseling starting in middle school. Winton also stressed the importance of entrepreneurial education for all to support cross functional skill development since entrepreneurs must function across multiple areas of expertise. Cross functional skill development gives students agility in the workforce while entrepreneurial education encourages starting a small business which is a Memphis economic development need.

From education, McQueen focused on career counseling, work-based learning and transforming the 11th and 12th grade experience toward a more relevant post-secondary focus while in high school. Work based learning includes high school credit for internships, apprenticeships and paid work experience. Krause stressed no-cost 1 to 2 year certification/degree access for all via Tennessee Promise, listening to customer employers for specific needs to improve the curriculum and relying more on technology for instructional delivery to engage current day students. And Rudd discussed a nation leading innovative industry partnership with FedEx, managing student tuition affordability and the high-quality University of Memphis Online Global degree platform which will be further discussed in an upcoming article. All educators praised the work of the Tennessee General Assembly which was represented by Representative Mark White of Memphis, Chairman of the House Education Committee.

Next Steps

Audience members seemed most curious about specific next steps to continue the regional conversation to get industry more involved in education which was not covered at the conference. Next steps to continue a productive conversation between diverse professional groups (industry and educators) requires a common language. In this case, common language can be established using customer employer skill and knowledge demand married with student needs to close the skills gap using career pathways curriculum.

Business education partnerships have been around a long time and fail regularly. This failure can be linked to the lack of a common language. A 2014 report from the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development found that employers and researchers definitions of “skills” often differ from one another and even scientific surveys use a variety of designs and definitions of “skills”.

This finding points to the need for establishing a common set of skills and definitions demanded by the customers of the workforce development system in employers. Given this, the following steps can be taken to support a productive and sustainable conversation between employers and educators:

Step 1. Establish a common dataset of employer demanded skills and knowledge (Demand)
Step 2. Identify student career preferences, interests, needs and skills through assessment (Supply)
Step 3. Integrate standards based academic curriculum with employer demanded skills, knowledge and technology with personalized student learning (Career Pathways)

The above steps provide a common language foundation to support productive and ongoing communication between customer employers and educators. Additionally, the above steps provide a methodology for integrating a meaningful part of the career counseling workload into the academic curriculum. In this way, career counselors support a career infused academic curriculum.

The career infused academic curriculum for all then provides entry points for industry to engage the educational system while productively communicating with educators using a common language. The resulting standards-based career pathways curriculum then insures educators that they are seamlessly meeting both academic standards and customer employer demand requirements to support regional economic development efforts.

WIN and GMACW

Unlike many communities, the good news is that Memphis has the organizations in place to accelerate the workforce development conversation in the age of agility. On the other hand, mired in red tape, as reported by Memphis Business Journal, collectively, the Workforce Investment Network (WIN) and Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW) have struggled to help fill 15,000 current job openings.

Disconnected efforts are often referenced for the ineffectiveness per the above article and in another Memphis Business Journal article featuring the observations of local business leader R. Brad Martin. Clearly defining the respective roles of WIN and GMACW for all local stakeholders would well serve local efforts. One approach may be to define WIN’s role to serve out of school audiences and GMACW’s to serve in school audiences.

Once respective organization roles are established, a common language should be deployed to facilitate productive conversations between diverse stakeholders to support local talent pipeline and economic development efforts. A common language would establish 1) datasets to define employer demand 2) occupationally aligned assessments to diagnose people’s needs (supply) and 3) Career pathways curriculum to support people in developing the skills to pursue desired careers, connecting with and filling jobs.

Conclusion

The age of agility demands an ongoing conversation to support talent pipeline development efforts to drive regional economic growth. It’s a conversation that leverages technology while promoting in demand career pathways and supports developing the academic, soft and cross functional entrepreneurial skills required to succeed in the age of agility.

The ongoing conversation requires industry engagement and workforce development / curricular systems that accommodate engagement. WIN and GMACW, equipped with defined organizational roles, should be leveraged to accomplish the above while relying on best practices in work-based learning as demonstrated by such organizations as the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council.

In the end, it’s about leveraging available resources and connecting the dots through an ongoing conversation to develop and retain talent while promoting in demand career pathways to drive regional economic growth in the age of agility.

joe b. kent

Guest Blogger

Mr. Joe B. Kent has worked throughout the country on workforce and economic development projects and is a reform activist in Memphis. Joe B. has a BBA in Finance, Masters in Instructional Technology and is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator with an emphasis on labor market information.

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Strong Oversight is Pro Business

Strong Oversight is Pro Business

Strong Oversight
is pro business
By Joe B. Kent – Guest Blogger
BALANCE, OVERSIGHT AND FISCAL CONSERVATISM IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS

Strong legislative oversight and true fiscal conservatism is good for local business. Fiscal conservatism can be defined as governmental restraint of expenditures against optimized revenue policy and debt minimization. Historically, after paying the ultimate political price in the loss of the 1992 presidential election, President George H.W. Bush’s fiscal conservative leadership that considered spending restraint, revenue optimization and debt minimization led to the last Federal Balanced Budget.

Unfortunately, unbalanced fiscal conservatism today, is often viewed through the prism of low taxes, governmental spending restraint and excessive tax incentive expenditures for corporate and real estate interests to increase growth to “improve the lives for all”. In effect, such tax incentives assume private business as a preferred allocator of capital to evolve the community ecosystem.

In Memphis, the former has proven to be a failed experiment under Memphis Tomorrow a local CEO organization that promised improved community outcomes, while using taxpayer money, for improved public safety, workforce and economic development. But the good news is local business leaders know there is a problem. Richard Smith, Greater Memphis Chamber Board Chairman has spoken out for reforming the tax incentive granting Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) which Memphis Tomorrow birthed.

Reforming EDGE should demand a new EDGE Board to drive balanced economic development policy. This need exists after most of the corporate EDGE Board members have served 7 years and have systematically overstated total new tax revenue generated by an estimated $800-900M through incomplete accounting that in effect claimed existing revenue as new revenue per the EDGE Scorecard. This practice resulted in an estimated  direct taxpayer loss of $250M+.

The incomplete accounting justified excessive corporate and real estate tax incentives for the benefit of the few to “retain” company operations in Shelby County. Further, current EDGE Board members have gutted public comment from the public record and per a Greater Memphis Chamber report have overseen poor customer centric process design.

A new professionally diverse EDGE Board would ideally support balanced economic development which can be referenced by the Amazon Road Map economic development policy pronouncement of the University of Memphis. Board seats would represent 1) K-14 Career Ready 2) Public Transit 3) University – Economist 4) Quality of Life 5) Airport 6) Small Business 7) Small Business 8) Real Estate and 9) Corporations. To insure balanced economic development policy was implemented, strong legislative oversight with trained legislators would need to occur on a quarterly basis.  

Strong Oversight Needed to Support Business Growth

Legislative and press oversight have been missing in action regarding the Memphis Corporate Community Leadership (Memphis Tomorrow, EDGE and Chamber) initiatives to support local economic development. This appears to come from the “business friendly” view of unbalanced fiscal conservatism that in the end hurts the overall business community.

In this way, legislators do not practice informed oversight and the press doesn’t ask questions. In fact, on WREG Informed Sources on 8/18/18, Commissioner Heidi Shafer praised the friendly local media. This makes sense because the local Memphis press doesn’t question the establishment or the lack of legislative oversight. Instead the local press provides what appears to be fake investigative news. The lack of press and legislative oversight contributes to a lack of vitality that is needed to spur local growth while providing needed checks and balances.

Examples of fake investigative news include the recent $1,000 Local Memphis 24 expenditure for a City Councilman’s portrait story – the Commercial Appeal’s story on the $9,000 City Council New Orleans expenditure and the recent Memphis Business Journal EDGE editorial that nitpicked at a Greater Memphis Chamber request for company anonymity in relocation efforts regarding EDGE. This reporting occurs as opposed to wrestling with the excessive tax incentives and deficient processes of EDGE and while the Daily Memphian sets to launch with the support of an anonymous donor base.

None of the former questions real power or the lack of legislative oversight that has occurred with Memphis Corporate Community Leadership. A lack of legislative oversight and non-investigative press results in a rigged system without needed checks and balances and a economic ecosystem out of balance.

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Let History Be Your Guide

Local business leaders often leverage historical knowledge to explain system imbalances or to support their positions on for example issues like tariffs. To that extent, recent and long-term history shows that trickle down economics as supported by policy implementations that support excessive tax incentives don’t work for the overall business community, total wage growth or addressing income inequality.

This historical graph shows the impact of excessive retention PILOTs in Memphis under a closed rigged Crump like system that benefit only a few while undermining support for small business. This historical graph shows the impact of a closed rigged economic system on overall Shelby County total wage growth. And this New York Times graph shows the impact of trickle-down economics over time and the acceleration of income inequality nationally. Trickle down doesn’t work and the Memphis system is out of balance.

The local historical cultural roots of the closed rigged imbalanced system can be traced back to the  Memphis Crump Machine of the 1940’s. A machine that insured dissidents had little or no voice with support by social elites and developers which can be shown in the current day to result in significant known local imbalances which don’t work to evolve a competitive ecosystem in a global economy.

Out of Balance

A lack of balance and culture for real oversight can be seen in public testimony and board makeups. In a recent City Council hearing involving the Poplar Corridor TIF, Councilman Martavius Jones can be seen in the video at 13:00 reassuring colleagues that he is not anti-growth due to his legitimate concerns over restricting future tax revenues to one of the most affluent areas of the City of Memphis. In a 2015 Good Jobs First study small business survey, respondents echo Councilman Jones concerns stating that incentive programs are not helping small business grow which results in further system imbalances.

In the discussion that starts at 2:49 in the video, Councilman Jones is just doing his job by advocating for fiscally conservative economic development policy that serves the entire business community. After all, Councilman Jones is a professional financial advisor that understands business and finance.

In his closing remarks at 13:00, Jones goes on to point out the myth of high property taxes while conceding that the Memphis and Shelby County property tax rate is high but the total amount paid by taxpayers due to lower property values make current revenue generating tax rates competitive. In this way, Councilman Jones is supporting true fiscal conservatism by making the case for needed revenue to support the evolution of the ecosystem for the purpose of competitive economic growth while dispelling hype that property tax rates are excessively high when considering all variables.

To the right, a table displays average property taxes paid and annual housing costs with a 30-year mortgage for Shelby County, Memphis, Nashville and the Nation as a whole. The table proves Councilman Jones argument that the overall amount paid for housing costs in Memphis and Shelby County are below that of Nashville and the national average making high property tax rates in effect a minimal issue.

As far as board makeups, just review the makeup of the current EDGE Board for imbalances. On the current corporate like EDGE Board, there are 2 bankers, 2 attorneys, 2 hospital executives, 1 non-profit ministry administrator, 1 commercial real estate broker and 1 accountant. This board makeup is a prescription for further economic imbalances without adequate representation for workforce, university economics, public transit and small business. Based on the data, small business vitality is the chief area of local economic development deficiency that would surely get more attention from a more professionally diverse board.

Conclusion

Greater Memphis Chamber recommendations for EDGE reform backed by customer centric process improvement and responsible targeted industry tax incentives focused on recruiting new businesses to Shelby County are a welcome step in the right direction. At the same time, needed economic growth will only occur with a new EDGE Board that includes new professionally diverse players, fresh ideas and strong informed oversight that supports true fiscal conservatism while driving balanced economic development for all.

joe b. kent
Guest Blogger
Mr. Joe B. Kent has worked throughout the country on workforce and economic development projects and is a reform activist in Memphis. Joe B. has a BBA in Finance, Masters in Instructional Technology and is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator with an emphasis on labor market information.

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