legislative leadership needed
for economic development
By Joe B. Kent // Guest Blogger

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City Councilman Chairman Berlin Boyd and County Commission Madam Chair Heidi Shafer along with their respective legislative bodies have a rare leadership opportunity window to legislatively curate and publicly craft local economic development policy. The leadership opportunity was introduced on March 1, 2018 in a Joint Memphis City Council / Shelby County Commission meeting with the establishment of a Joint Council/Commission committee focused on reforming the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) and improving local economic development efforts.
Crisis Mode
The problem is the Joint Committee is effectively not functioning and has only met once since March 1, 2018 as the opportunity window closes with a soon to be departing experienced Shelby County Commission. An experienced Commission that is needed for the potential heavy lift of restructuring EDGE.
This surprising lack of meetings and public conversation occurs after Chairman Boyd stated “We’re in crisis mode” regarding local economic development in the Commercial Appeal two months ago. A crisis in the sense that the Memphis/Shelby ecosystem is not keeping pace with its municipal peers in total wage growth and etc. as local tax incentives for corporations and real estate investors explode. Moving with a sense of urgency and having public meetings while practicing legislative oversight adds needed vitality to the system while addressing the local economic development crisis.
Local Chairs in Boyd and Shafer appear to be waiting on the completion of yet another round of outside studies and plans to schedule needed Joint Committee meetings. Plans originated by the local economic development establishment, currently a point of concern and consisting of such organizations as Memphis Tomorrow, Greater Memphis Chamber and EDGE. This unnecessary delay in taking up the public meeting work of economic development exists instead of listening to the customer taxpayer. Customer taxpayers that include local experts and institutions.
Local Voice to Correct Rigged State
This waste of time and delay is concerning because considering outside local establishment driven recommendations in isolation without considering significant local input on the record is likely to result in more of the same. After all, that is what has happened in the past with the largely Memphis Tomorrow Fast Forward driven Brookings effort. Not taking in considerable local input regarding economic development policy gathered in a public setting is a HUGE legislative leadership miss and likely a continuation of the current rigged state of local affairs. A rigged state that seems to have gone on for the past seven years that includes a lack of formal local legislative oversight of the economic development complex accommodated by a press that doesn’t ask important questions.
Both Joint Committee Co-Chairs in Boyd (49:40) and Shafer (3:03:00) are on record in effect pointing to each other to call needed Joint Committee meetings. That is why an open letter has been sent to Co -Chairs Boyd and Shafer to ask them to come together immediately to call for the Joint Committee meeting while seizing this rare local legislative opportunity. The opportunity that requires the unique hand of legislative leadership to curate and craft economic development policy with the soon to be departing experienced Commissioners in concert with local public input. Much of the work does not require public hearing but just information gathering that would be put on the record to help local legislators lead, curate and craft local customer taxpayer driven economic development policy.
Next Steps
While it’s for certain that needed offline meetings out of public view are occurring regarding economic development, there are so many healthy opportunities for on the record testimony from the public to inform local economic development efforts. In addition to hearing from the public, it would be informative to hear genuine thoughts / convictions / concerns on the record from local economic development professionals and public officials. As opposed to hearing them speak from the bullet points of some plan of an outside consultant.

Since economic development impacts everything, here are specific suggested examples of some of the on the public record work the Joint Committee should immediately begin with to lead, curate and craft local economic development policy:

1. Define Economic Development

2. Encourage grassroots public and written comment

3. University of Memphis Dr. John Gnuschke of the The Memphis Economy on The Amazon Road Map

4. University of Memphis Mr. Ted Townsend Chief Economic Development and Government Relations Officer testimony

5. Commissioner Steve Basar’s expansion on site readiness to support economic development

6. David Waddell’s visionary ideas as featured in the Commercial Appeal

7. Tom Jones public commentary on local economic development after years of writings in his Smart City Memphis Blog

8. Mayor Strickland’s and Mayor Luttrell’s ideas for needed course correction

9. Joe B. Kent on the need to restructure EDGE and local career pathways implementation in support of Memphis Opportunity promotion

10. Brian Stephens explaining how the Greater Memphis Chamber Business Council fits into local economic development efforts

11. Phillip Spinosa on the Chairman’s Circle role in economic development efforts and an update on the Moon Missions and Accountability Committee

12. Outside plans from Community Lift, Greater Memphis Chamber and etc….

The above are just suggestions but are sure to leverage the customer taxpayer voice while facilitating the needed public conversation in the economic development policy effort.
The Memphis City Council’s and Shelby County Commission’s unique legislative hand is needed now to lead, curate and craft local economic development policy. This while protecting the customer taxpayer from the same people dominating the local conversation in Memphis Tomorrow, Greater Memphis Chamber and EDGE thus jilting the public voice with flowery outside plans and promises of a better tomorrow. The City Council and current experienced County Commission needs to go to work now in setting the stage for oversight while leading Memphis and Shelby County economic development policy efforts for years to come.
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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