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.
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
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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