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

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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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