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VOL. 125 | NO. 170 | Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Business Sense

Incoming Shelby County mayor emphasizes economic development

By Andy Meek

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Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell bids farewell to Detective Barbara Tolbert, Detective Jackie Matthews, Robert Koerber and other colleagues at a going-away party at the Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday before becoming mayor of Shelby County.
Photo: Lance Murphey

Shelby County’s new mayor got an early start on letting the county’s business community know it will have an ally in the big office at 160 N. Main St.

If they have any doubt, business owners and corporate executives need only take a quick glance at the transition team assembled by Mark Luttrell, who will be sworn into office Wednesday.

He stacked his team with corporate leaders, small-business owners and a variety of business advocates. He’s begun meeting with them and laying out an agenda that puts a premium on economic development. And he’s broken the group into small teams to focus on issues paramount to business owners, such as taxes, zoning and education.

Luttrell chose Stephen Reynolds, president and CEO of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., and Elaine Sanford, president and owner of Young-Sanford Marketing and Media Services, to head his transition team.

“As I moved about the county during the campaign, one consistent thing I was hearing from businesses – small and large, minority- and female-owned – was that we were not a real business-friendly community,” Luttrell said. “I just decided during the duration of the campaign that when elected, one of the first things I wanted to do was pull together some people who could take a look at Shelby County and determine what more we can do to become a business-friendly community.”

Driving Luttrell’s interest are sights that frequently greeted him on the campaign trail – everything from frustrated businessmen who complained of obstacles like red tape and of companies scooting south across the state line.

DeSoto County, in particular, has been of late greeting Memphis businesses with open arms. There, the taxes are low and incentives flow freely, points that Luttrell conceded with chagrin.

It’s why he’ll be talking among transition team members about getting the state on board with an effort to put Shelby County on stronger footing to compete in business recruitment and retention.

It also explains why Luttrell rearranged some personal matters to make an appearance at a private meeting and reception Downtown a few weeks ago for board members of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.

The Memphis-based regional air carrier is exploring the possibility of bringing its local headquarters Downtown to One Commerce Square, 40 S. Main St.

Local public and private sector leaders are waging an “all hands on deck” effort – to borrow a phrase from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. – to get Pinnacle to sign a long-term lease at One Commerce.

Luttrell was among a small crowd of Downtown supporters who made a private pitch to Pinnacle board members on the 29th floor of the Downtown tower before the reception, which was attended by a cross-section of the city’s business elite.

The new county mayor, according to people who were there, told Pinnacle board members because of the eight years he’s spent as county sheriff, he can attest to the fact Downtown is among the statistically safest precincts in the city.

Expect to see plenty more moves like that one from Luttrell.

“I do think he’s honestly committed to economic development for the small-business owner, the medium-business owner and the large-business owner,” said Luttrell transition team member Robert Staub, founder of SmallBiz Memphis.

As part of his involvement with the group, Staub has sounded out business owners whose primary concerns include more inclusion in the government procurement process and better access to capital.

Transition team member Gwyn Fisher, executive director of MPACT Memphis, also is talking up the importance that needs to be placed on talent recruitment and the development of a robust local workforce.

And she says even that’s still only part of the equation.

“I’m very encouraged, because I believe (Luttrell) truly understands this – two-thirds of young professionals move for the city first, and then they find the job,” Fisher said. “So as much as it is important for employers to provide a quality work experience, it’s those other 16 hours in a day that are likely to determine whether your young professionals stay in the city.

“And that’s where I think we have a real opportunity, because Shelby County has so many amazing amenities and different types of neighborhoods.”

Luttrell said this paradigm shift for the county begins with a few basic steps.

“It starts with taking a look at the ordinances, the codes, the taxing levels and the guidelines we have that structure business in Shelby County,” he said. “It involves taking a very close look at what we can do locally to simplify the process so that we can promote businesses and use that as really the lynchpin to get our economy going.”

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