Massey Keeps Tabs on Industrial Incentives

By Tom Wilemon

Joann Massey
Position: Compliance Officer
Organization: Memphis and Shelby County Office of Economic Development
Basics: Massey, who has been in the position for six months, was a key person in revamping the tax incentive program meant to lure industry to Shelby County.

“Our board has gained an assurance that our staff is doing our due diligence. Memphis and Shelby County are my clients. I’m always going to do my due diligence to protect them.”
– Joann Massey

Joann Massey started her new job just six months ago, but within that short time frame she has been a key player on a team that has made Memphis a better competitor for new jobs.

Massey, the compliance officer for the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Economic Development, worked closely with Charles Gulotta, the office’s executive director, to revamp the tax incentive program for luring industry. Gulotta had held the job for a year when he hired Massey to join the staff of six people responsible for implementing the city and county’s economic development incentives.

Needed updates

Massey began compiling data to convince elected officials to change onerous restrictions within the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program.

The Shelby County Commission approved the changes in February, and the Memphis City Council followed in April. The changes included the elimination of a county residency requirement for 75 percent of workers. Site consultants would see this restriction and strike Memphis off their lists.

“The door was closed before it was even opened,” Massey said.

When the office staff took their case to the elected officials, they also wanted to show evidence of the program’s success. Massey, who previously worked for two and a half years as the legal supervisor at the Shelby County Trustee’s Office, used the skills she learned there to organize archivable data.

“Quite honestly, there was no true applicable system set up for our office,” she said. “What I have done since I have been here – actually within the very first month – is set up a master database for our programs, where we were able to retrieve data as far back as 1990. They helped in convincing local officials that the program was viable and that we were actually achieving and not giving away the store.”

Since the changes have been implemented, an existing employer, Pfizer Inc., has expanded operations, and a new employer, Tacoma, Wash.-based Pacific Paper Products Inc., will set up operations here. The incentives offered to the two companies through the PILOT program will result in more than 300 jobs.

“Before then we had only had two companies who had just amended their policies, so we had no activity outside of amendments for the whole four or five months until those changes were made,” Massey said. “In fact, both companies stated that if not for those changes, they wouldn’t have been able to accept the offer or seek the offer.”

Pacific Paper also was considering a location in DeSoto County where there are fewer restrictions in the tax incentive program, she said. Pfizer was looking at locations throughout the United States.

Hopeful future

The Office of Economic Development is looking for more companies to offer the incentives to. Massey said she is hopeful.

“We are being heavily surveyed by site consultants,” she said. “There is a high saturation for a couple of reasons, especially from manufacturing firms.”

Memphis is on the survey lists because of affordability and work force availability, along with the presence of FedEx Corp.

Massey is also in charge of compliance for the Foreign Trade Zone and the Fast Track Program. Currently, there are only two companies within the FTZ administered by the office, Centrepot Inc. and Sharp Electronics.

“The state has allowed some changes that will help grow that program,” Massey said. “Our office is looking to structure the offering of that program to more companies.”

Another compliance responsibility is monitoring the Fast Track permitting program to shepherd businesses through the government approval process for construction projects. Besides the compliance responsibilities, Massey helps the office with marketing endeavors, manages projects and supervises interns.

Memphis at heart

A native Memphian, Massey is a graduate of Middle College High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from LeMoyne-Owen College and a master’s degree in business administration from Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. Before working in the public sector, she was a wealth management specialist for Morgan Keegan & Co.

Massey said she values the time she spent working with Shelby County Trustee Bob Patterson because of the emphasis he put on accuracy and integrity in dealing with public money.

“My clients are the Memphis and Shelby County citizens and elected officials,” she said. “When I am sitting across the table and a company may not be meeting their goals or they may be negotiating for goals and looking out for their best interests, I am looking out for the city’s and the county’s best interests. This is what it is. If the cost benefit ratio doesn’t add up, I’m not going to take it before our board and recommend it confidently. Our board has gained an assurance that our staff is doing our due diligence. Memphis and Shelby County are my clients. I’m always going to do my due diligence to protect them.”