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VOL. 126 | NO. 24 | Friday, February 4, 2011

Aerotropolis Initiative to Develop Master Plan

By Sarah Baker

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The Greater Memphis Chamber’s Dexter Muller has often said the word “aerotropolis” sounds like the place where Superman was born.

FedEx and the Memphis International Airport are at the heart of the aerotropolis concept and future planning. (Daily News File Photo/ Lance Murphey)

The term was first coined in the mid-1990s by John Kasarda, a business professor at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina. After seeing that Memphis International Airport was the world’s busiest airport for cargo and also served as a passenger hub for a major airline, he took his concept to the Greater Memphis Chamber, which eventually trademarked the tagline, “Memphis: America’s Aerotropolis. Where Runway, Road, Rail and River Merge.”

While the aerotropolis concept focuses on the airport, it also promotes other modes of transportation as vital to the region’s economy.

“The aerotropolis name is just not commonplace, people don’t know what it is, so we want to educate folks and continue to market Memphis as America’s aerotropolis,” said Richard Smith, chair of the Chamber’s Aerotropolis Branding Committee.

The city’s aerotropolis standing took a hit last week when preliminary data from Airports Council International revealed that Memphis had slipped behind Hong Kong for the world’s top cargo ranking.

But Memphis’ public and private officials are steadfast in touting Memphis as the most importation transportation hub on the continent.

“The fact that we’ll be No. 2 in the world rather than No. 1 doesn’t change the fact that we’re No. 1 in the U.S. and in the Americas, generally, by a far margin,” said Arnold Perl, chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority and the chamber’s aerotropolis initiative. “It’s really bragging rights because Hong Kong is not our competitor. It’s really complementary to Memphis because FedEx’s growth is international and Asia is fueling a huge chunk of that, so the more Asia has traffic, the better it is for FedEx.”

A primary goal for the aerotropolis initiative in the next 12 to 18 months is to develop a formal master plan to solidify the transportation assets, much like Memphis International’s 20-year master plan, which was approved last year.

The master plan has value not only to create a blueprint for the further development of the aerotropolis, but also for alignment among stakeholders.

“We’re very mindful of what Fred Smith, the president, chair and CEO of FedEx, has said repeatedly: ‘Alignment is the essence of management,’” Perl said. “And to get consensus on an overall master plan certainly leads to achieving such alignment.”

The city’s aerotropolis efforts will be center stage in April when Memphis hosts the 2011 Airport Cities World Conference & Exhibition. About 700 attendees representing more than 40 countries and many states are anticipated to attend.

Another initiative in place to promote the community to both locals and visitors from abroad is through signage. In time for the conference, the airport plans to have two large-screen displays at the entrance and exit, enabling airport officials to communicate with the traveling public electronically. At the bottom of each sign will be the city’s trademarked logo.

There’s also a big effort on beautification. The Memphis UrbanArt Commission has budgeted $70,000 for design of major art which would be located along Plough Boulevard to enhance it aesthetically. A beautification subcommittee, with the help of the Memphis Area Airport Development Corp. and Airways Lamar Business Association, is aiding in those efforts.

“We’re always on these Forbes most miserable cities lists and I firmly believe, in addition to the some of the metrics they use which are outdated, a big part of it is the first and last thing people see when they leave is the airport and the surrounding area,” Smith said.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has granted Memphis a Community Challenge Grant that will enable projects such as improvements to the Lamar Avenue (U.S. 78) corridor and building another bridge over the Mississippi River. Plans are also in progress on the Interstate 269 outer loop.

Also under way are continued economic development agreements with cities that share trade routes with Memphis, either by road, rail, air or river.

But at the heart of the aerotropolis brand is talent, recruitment and retention. That objective is accomplished through three areas: jobs, quality of life and direct talent interaction.

“You want businesses to choose Memphis because in addition to the incentives you throw at them, in addition to the logistics component which makes an ideal site for them to locate, you also want the quality of life to be there, where the folks that they go out and hire don’t hate living here or won’t relocate,” Smith said. “It’s really about keeping the plates spinning.”

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