There is something wrong with what passes for an economic development strategy in Memphis and Shelby County.
We argue about PILOTs and whether the highest property tax rate in the state contributes to an exodus from Memphis or whether it is the inability of city and county government to provide more government jobs with benefits that last a lifetime.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, there are repeated success stories like the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park in Marshall County with three major manufacturing and distribution tenants.
Those plants will almost certainly hire Memphians along with workers from Fayette and Marshall counties, all of whom need the jobs.
The point here is the jobs, isn’t it?
We ask the question because our economic development strategy seems to be aimed at something other than jobs. It seems to be aimed at calculating revenue streams and government hoops to jump through.
Meanwhile, North Mississippi is prospering with not just private ownership but a coalition of private owners in the case of Marshall County’s industrial park. The government sector focuses just on infrastructure and let's not forget Mississippi is pulling this off with a state income tax.
For all of our talk on this side of the state line about the regional nature of economic development, Mississippi is providing the jobs that will draw workers from the region, including Memphis. The goods made at the industrial park near Byhalia will move through Memphis intermodal facilities.
Proximity to Memphis is the key to the success in Marshall County, yet being in Memphis is not.
The lesson is we still aren't doing this right – even after all of the mental gymnastics in the last two years that created EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine) – a one-stop shop that really isn’t one stop but all of the old stops plus a new one under an umbrella.
It’s not like we are without the ingredients for this kind of success. We have Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park in Southwest Memphis, its access dramatically improved.
Presidents Island could grow by 1,500 acres in terms of developable real estate as it builds railroad capacity – a doubling of developed space in the industrial area.
There are a few important points to remember about what is happening in Marshall County. It took 15 years of work for leaders of the effort there to see results. Those 15 years included the recession we are still recovering from – the recovery our leaders continue to say we want to be ready for.
The industrial park is being marketed on several levels by the owners and by government entities using a common set of standards.
There is a strategy that is working to provide good paying jobs for Memphians and others in the region. The strategy is on the other side of the state line.