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VOL. 126 | NO. 50 | Monday, March 14, 2011

French Delegation Looks to Memphis for Biz Strategy

By Bill Dries

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A trio of visitors to Memphis from France last week spiced their conversation with words instantly familiar to a group of Memphians working to promote the medical and biosciences sector of the Memphis economy.

They talked of the aerotropolis concept, innovation clusters, a better transportation network and the city’s location as a hub.

A map of Paris included a ribbon of color to signify the Seine River but had none of the more familiar landmarks a tourist to Paris might seek out.

The trio from Invest in France Agency and the Paris Region Economic Development Agency came to Memphis specifically to talk to the Bioworks Foundation about The Medicen Paris Cluster, a health care biotech distribution cluster that can link Memphis medical and bio products to Europe through Paris.

Like Memphis, Charles de Gaulle Airport has a FedEx hub that is to Europe what the Memphis Super Hub is to North America.

“They are our Memphis for the region,” said Richard Smith, managing director of life sciences and specialty services for FedEx Express. Smith hosted the luncheon discussion, one in a series sponsored by the Memphis Bioworks Business Association.

Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority president Larry Cox made his pitch for a direct flight connection to Paris before the luncheon. The Paris flight has been a longtime goal of airport officials.

Smith said the importance to Memphis business of Paris’ strategic plan is basic.

“It’s one word: access,” Smith told the group of 60 at the University of Memphis. “You have fast access to markets all over. … That is significant in an increasingly globalized society, which is unprecedented in human history.”

Like Memphis, the Paris promoters talk of Paris becoming a city with more density.

Philippe Yverginaux, president of the Invest in France North American office in New York City, said his agency helps business prospects learn “how France works – something our American friends hardly figure out.”

The Memphis audience chuckled at the remark, a reflection of the difficulty newcomers to the Memphis business waters sometimes encounter.

Alexander Thermet, the business development manager, deftly fielded questions about business incentives the French government offers for research and development enterprises with a private talk after the luncheon.

The incentives mentioned in the presentation included tax credits of 40 percent of research and development expenses when the expenses reach 100 million euros.

Vincent Durieux, the chief operating officers of the Paris Region Economic Development Agency, was particularly eager for any exchanges with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He and Yverginaux and Thermet toured the hospital just before the luncheon. Among the people they talked with was a student from France.

“Perhaps it would be a good idea to develop connections between St. Jude and some of our big institutions,” said Durieux.

Yverginaux said Paris isn’t interested in any and all opportunities.

“Our priority today is not really to build industries,” Yvergniaux said. “We are not at a stage where we are really trying to attract industries to build from scratch.”

Memphis and Paris – as well as many other cities trying to direct their growth in a specific direction – have taken the approach in their planning to focus on sectors that are already present in the local economies and build from there.

“We can attract other tenants to help build something even better,” he said. “What we want to do is to try to organize partnerships between what you do here and the strengths you have developed here with what we have in France and the Paris area to help further innovate.”

The visit by the French delegation is one in a series of business and cultural exchanges between Paris and Memphis.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was in Paris in January to compare notes on the aerotropolis concept Memphis and Paris are pursuing – their respective airports as centers for economic zones devoted to businesses with a global reach.

The Paris meetings were also a preliminary to the Airport Cities World Conference & Exhibition to be held April 11-13 in Memphis.

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