County Edge Task Force:

getting real

By Joe Kent

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

The County EDGE Task Force continued their local reform work with a productive open discussion of challenging and locally self-inflicted economic development conditions in Shelby County. At the same time, task force member Carolyn Hardy continued the simplistic and sloganistc “good not great” rhetoric to describe the work of the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE).

Such rhetoric is disconnected from any sort of data supported reality and seems designed to support the status quo. This disconnect marked the low point of the meeting which was otherwise marked by frank, open and productive discussion of issues that challenge the local economic development ecosystem.

Eric Robertson of Community Lift was added as a task force member by County Commission Chairman Van Turner. Commissioner and Task Force Chair Willie Brooks, Commissioner Reginald Milton, Carolyn Hardy, Eric Robertson, Al Bright, Cary Vaughn and Les Binkley were task force members present with Jack Sammons, Calvin Anderson and Ron Belz absent. New Commissioner Amber Mills was present as an interested observer. And based on an email from the County Commission, the pubic audio record will not be available due to technical difficulties.

Meeting Recap

Dexter Muller a local economic development expert led in testimony with a presentation that stressed a strategic plan framework that consisted of a focus on 1) available sites, 2) target industry sectors, 3) workforce development and 4) marketing. Muller stated that Shelby County is not getting State of Tennessee referrals for manufacturing based on a lack of available sites while also citing concerns over Holmes Road transportation infrastructure that has been delayed since 2001.

Muller also promoted tapping local water resource assets to spur local economic development while referencing Dupont Solae that saves $1M per year by operating and leveraging high quality water resources in Memphis. Dupont Solae will be discussed later.

Mark Halperin of Boyle followed Muller with testimony that emphasized community assets in quality of life and low cost of living while citing concerns regarding efficient air travel, neglected transportation Holmes Road infrastructure and workforce. Halperin also touted the teamwork involved in the highly successful ServiceMaster save.

In questioning, Cary Vaughn representing the County on the EDGE Board, persisted in advocating for a connected strategy throughout Shelby County which has been a concern for areas outside of Memphis. Harold Byrd, representing the County Chambers will appear at the next County EDGE Task Force meeting.

Carolyn Hardy, Al Bright and Eric Robertson rightly focused on local small business support which is where most local economic growth comes from across the country. Calls to work together with local small business were made while known local small business proposals to address workforce development remain stifled by the rigged-up Memphis Tomorrow complex at the expense of 60,000 learners and a business community in need of workers.

Calls for a new EDGE Board were not addressed by the task force after 7 of the 9 board members have served for 7 years. This was made possible by a Memphis Tomorrow supported City/County resolution that did not protect the public interest with term limits for board members or approval of economic modeling to justify excessive tax abatements.


Analysis – Self Inflicted

The economic development “crisis” as described by Council Chairman Berlin Boyd is a Memphis Tomorrow / Memphis Corporate Community Leadership (MCCL) self-inflicted crisis. Memphis Tomorrow is a local CEO organization that has historically guided economic policy development. But based on the data, Memphis Tomorrow appears to be a meddler of sorts rigging up the system for a small few at the expense of a community in need. This conclusion is supported by local work that has not been prioritized to include operating without a measurable commonly understood definition for economic development and a plan that adequately addresses site readiness, workforce, public transit and small business.

Based on EDGE Task Force questioning and testimony, it’s clear that a measurable definition for economic development along with a strategic plan remain outstanding. The lack of a definition for economic development occurs after the new economic development thought leader in the social media group Memphis Raise Your Expectations (the people) proposed a definition using the only known available public survey on the matter to the County Commission. But the problem is that the people are not considered in a rigged-up Memphis Tomorrow social construct

The above has gone neglected over the last 7 years as excessive EDGE corporate / real estate tax abatements for local companies have been prioritized using incomplete bogus accounting at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $250M+ . The former occurs while EDGE reports a $600M gain on the local practice of transferring wealth to corporate / real estate interests at the expense of many. This results in a system out of balance.

One such example of an excessive local PILOT can be referenced from Mr. Muller’s testimony involving Dupont Solae that saves $1M per year while leveraging geographically unique local water resources. In addition to that savings, the EDGE Board of which Mr. Muller is not a part, went on to award Dupont Solae an additional total $5M tax abatement over 11 years against existing jobs while justifying it with its very own incomplete bogus accounting methodology.

Erasing the above excesses in tax abatements will go a long way in addressing deficient economic growth by investing locally. Using a connected county wide approach, local investments would target career education, public transit, small business development and site development. It can be shown that the majority of local deficient $1.57B total wage growth can be addressed through a focus on career education and small business.


Getting economic development right will require frank data centric discussions that are diametrically opposed to the rigged-up Memphis Tomorrow social construct. Such discussions should result in a measurable economic development definition and the implementation of a connected Shelby County wide economic development plan that lifts the quality of life for all.

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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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