When John W. Moore took the reins of the Greater Memphis Chamber in 2005, the organization was at the end of its latest economic development campaign and financial resources were strained.
“We were in incredible financial distress when I took over,” Moore said. “We weren’t even going to make the next payroll and it was really scary, but the chamber now is on great financial footing thanks to the hard work of a great team.”
After taking over, Moore immediately set about rallying businesses and civic leaders to create an ambitious new economic development campaign while transforming the structure and operations of the Chamber, leading to an eight-year tenure where the Chamber recruited more than 21,000 new jobs and $4.5 billion in new capital investment to Memphis and Shelby County.
“He deserves a lot of credit for transforming this organization into a very dynamic place,” said Dexter Muller, senior vice president for community development at the chamber. “When (Moore) came in we had just ended the Memphis 2005 campaign, so financial support was down but just look at what happened after he came in.”
Moore, a former high-ranking executive with Northwest Airlines, will step down as president and CEO of the chamber Jan. 3.
“Economic Development is like a relay race in perpetuity,” Moore said. “The baton is continuously passed from one leader to the next. We have accomplished a great deal for greater Memphis over the years and now is the right time to identify the next leader for the chamber.”
Moore’s successor has not yet been identified. The 2014 chamber board chairman, who will be announced in November, and the board’s executive committee will announce the process for selecting Moore’s successor.
When Moore took over at the chamber, he brought a business-like approach to restructuring the group’s organizational structure and operations.
“John picked people that brought everything to the next level,” said Muller, who has worked at the Chamber since 2000. “It was a level of financial and organizational discipline you don’t normally see at non-profits but in the business world.”
Funding wise, the chamber that Moore inherited was essentially fighting with one hand tied behind its back.
According to a 2007 study produced by Atlanta-based Market Street Services, the city and county operated the “most underfunded” economic development effort the group had seen in a decade.
Memphis and Shelby County’s economic development budgets paled in comparison with peer cities such as Nashville, Knoxville, Louisville, Ky., Atlanta, and Charlotte, N.C., according to Market Street
Moore set about changing that, focusing heavily on forming partnerships with city and county governments, the area’s leading corporate executives and groups like Memphis Tomorrow, the Mid-South Minority Business Council, Black Business Association, Memphis Bioworks, Hispanic Business Alliance and the National Association of Women Business Owners among others.
“(Moore) has always been a passionate advocate for improving our community for all our citizens,” said Jack Sammons, who has worked with Moore as a member of the Memphis City Council and chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “His business background gave him the insight that only economic development would put us on the path toward attaining our goals. We all owe John a tip of our hat.”
The chamber and Memphis Tomorrow joined forces to create Memphis Fast Forward, an ambitious economic and community development plan that garnered national headlines.
“My whole purpose of taking the job was about there being a role where I could make an impact in this community and help make Memphis a rock star,” Moore said.
During Moore’s tenure, International Paper and Service Master relocated their corporate headquarters to Memphis. Nucor Steel took over and expanded the shuttered Birmingham Steel mill. And Electrolux and Mitsubishi Power Products Inc. both opened major manufacturing plants.
“We’ve worked together on some of our largest projects and strengthened ties with existing businesses,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. “We’re indebted to him.”
Some of those successes came amid the work economic climate the nation faced in decades.
“(Moore) has led the business community through one of the worst economic times of our nation and has successfully positioned Memphis and our assets as the place to do business,” said Larry Cox, chamber board chairman and CEO of the Airport Authority.
Muller said the chamber has earned a reputation locally and nationally for being able to set and achieve goals.
“The core thrust of what we’re doing is economic development and that’s where his focus was,” Muller said. “I believe we are clearly the go-to organization when you want to get something done.”
Moore has been preparing the chamber for the future, forming a Chairman’s Circle tasked with raising $2.5 annually for the chamber, which is funded mainly by its members.
“He’s left the chamber in good hands,” Sammons said.