an engine for
local economic development – GMMdc
By Joe B. Kent – Guest Blogger

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The local work of the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council (GMMDC) adds significant capacity to local workforce and economic development efforts. GMMDC, located in Bartlett, collaborates with 27 biomedical member companies to identify biomedical occupational requirements to close the skills gap in service of the growing biomedical industry. This work is done while also meeting student career needs at an accelerated pace.

Closing the skills gap involves providing industry recognized credentials and work-based learning opportunities, including apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and internships to prepare participants for careers in the medical device industry. GMMDC also partners with the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce, Bartlett City Schools, Arlington Community Schools, Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) and the Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW).

GMMDC Responds
The “Room to Grow” report published by Complete Tennessee approximately a year ago reported frustration by local industry leaders of timeliness of student completion. Complete Tennessee works to increase completion rates statewide and GMMDC has locally responded to this pressing local workforce and economic development need.  

Roy Smith, GMMDC’s Executive Director states “The GMMDC counsels parents, students and teachers to help them better understand the great benefits of a career in the medical device industry. While still in high school, students can use the Tennessee Promise grant and dual enrollment classes to complete a diploma and then go directly into a job or an apprenticeship with no college debt.”

There may be no better way for families and students to get ahead than to start a career with no college debt. According to MarketWatch and Edvisors  as reported in 2016:

  • The class of 2015 will graduate each student with $35,051 in debt on average, according to
  • The total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. is $1.2 trillion, that’s the second-highest level of consumer debt behind only mortgages. Most of that is loans held by the federal government.
  • About 40 million Americans hold student loans and about 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients
    graduate with debt.
  • One in four student loan borrowers are either in delinquency or default on their student loans,
    according the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Recently, GMMDC announced the approval of the GMMDC Machinist Apprenticeship through the United States Department of Labor (DOL). An apprentice learns a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at lower wages. As a GMMDC Machinist Apprentice, students become proficient with the following career relevant skills:

  • Reading blueprints (GD&T), sketches or CAD/CAM files
  • Understanding the fundamentals of machining different metals
  • Operating and monitoring manual equipment and CNC machinery
  • Shaping metal into machined parts that match product specifications
  • Performing required job functions in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices as defined by the company’s Quality Management System

The above win-win programming meets both student and employer needs through thoughtful and collaborative curriculum alignment while propelling the local economy.

Collaborative Partnership Gets It Done
The previously mentioned career ready programming came about through a collaborative effort of multiple organizations summarized below:
Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce – The Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC) led the creation of the GMMDC by researching in 2011 the local business landscape which revealed a concentration of medical device companies. These research findings resulted in the BACC closely listening to the needs of medical device manufacturers which revealed a skilled worker shortage was constraining business growth. The BACC then led a successful collaboration between 27 area medical device companies which resulted in the creation of the GMMDC in 2014. The GMMDC is currently thriving and housed at The BACC where bi-monthly meetings are held in a board room funded by a Delta Regional Authority grant. Bi-monthly meetings focus on building a talent pipeline for careers in the medical device industry which results in collaborations with BACC area education and workforce delivery organizations.

Bartlett City Schools – GMMDC collaborates with Bartlett City Schools (BCC) and area systems such as Arlington Community Schools (ACS) and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in talent pipeline development efforts. TCAT helped establish a modern showcase machine shop at Bartlett High School as well as a dual enrollment program where high school students earn dually both credits and college hours towards a TCAT diploma. The partnership between BCC, ACC, Bartlett High, TCAT and the GMMDC has resulted in the planned construction of a new 40,000 square foot TCAT facility to host a flagship medical device machining program. The new TCAT facility is currently set to open in early 2020. 

Greater Memphis Alliance for Competitive Workforce (GMACW) – While GMMDC collaborated with TCAT in 2014, GMACW was emerging as a facilitator for Memphis area talent pipeline development. GMMDC helped to provide GMACW with a framework to scale talent pipeline development efforts into other industries to serve regional workforce and economic development needs. The GMMDC and GMACW collaboration resulted in a GMACW led United States Department of Labor America’s Promise $6M grant award. The grant award supports the local Move-Hire program and funds: 1) tuition for individuals who are unemployed or underemployed, 2) educational equipment purchases and 3) partner organizations that help individuals connect to post-secondary educational, career and job opportunities. 


Listening to customers in area employers as demonstrated by the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce can lead to collaborative innovative economic development solutions like The Greater Memphis Medical Device Council. Such solutions stand to move the Memphis community beyond a real estate / corporate tax incentive economic development approach to more locally balanced economic development efforts.  

The data is conclusive. A locally focused tax incentive heavy approach to economic development that focuses on local companies and real estate development does not work. Such an approach has led to forgone investments in education and public transit resulting in workforce unreliability, taxpayer losses and below peer average total wage growth rates. 

While companies will come and go in many cases beyond the control of the community, the one area that the community controls is the development of a proficient workforce. Why not Think BIG and launch a Nation Leading Career Education initiative to fully own what can be controlled while squelching concerns regarding the availability of a skilled workforce? After all, the GMMDC provides the community with momentum and arguably a Nation Leading education to employment model. 

It would seem customer taxpayers would agree with this type of Nation Leading approach to economic development. In a recent survey administered by the local social media activist group Memphis Raise Your Expectations, respondents ranked the importance of the six criteria of The University of Memphis Amazon Road Map of The Memphis Economy  in support of economic development efforts. The survey results revealed the following percentage importance distribution: 1) Career Ready Workforce -21%, 2) Public Transit – 19%, 3) High Quality University – 17%, 4) Quality of Life – 17%, 5) Efficient Air Transportation – 14% and 6) Tax Incentives – 12%. 

Perhaps listening to the customer taxpayer and fully implementing funded initiatives as demonstrated by the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce is the key to addressing Memphis economic development needs. In this case, simply listening to customers has resulted in an innovative economic development model in GMMDC that has the potential to transform and catapult local economic development 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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