Plant Follows Blueprint for Project Success

By Andy Meek

First come the months and years of deal-making and finger-crossing. After that, the big announcement.

Next up after all that hard work in the world of economic development is something now evident throughout Memphis: forward momentum on several big projects that promise to bring hundreds of jobs, a boost to the manufacturing base and a jolt to the local economy.

Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc., for example, is set to break ground Tuesday for the new heavy electrical equipment production facility the company announced earlier this year it would build in Memphis.

The company’s decision came after an arduous two-year site selection process.

Tuesday’s event, scheduled for 10 a.m. at Rivergate Industrial Park, marks the first physical step toward turning the land into what ultimately will be a $200 million, 350,000-square-foot factory that will initially produce large power transformers.

The plan calls for construction starting this spring and production starting in 2013.

Job recruitment for the plant will start later this year. MEPPI plans to hire about 275 people, most of them local.

It’s a resounding step forward for an economic development project the city came close to losing. As detailed in an article in the March issue of Site Selection Magazine, Memphis officials had to convince MEPPI that an early 2010 Forbes article slamming Memphis was unfair and shouldn’t be a factor in the company’s decision.

That attention in Forbes threatened to pour cold water on MEPPI’s initial interest in Memphis. MEPPI’s project consultant, in fact, called the chamber to say that unless it could refute the Forbes article in a specific and detailed way, it was probably the end of the line for Memphis.

So the chamber prepared a splashy booklet refuting the errors and simultaneously putting the city’s best foot forward.

“In five days, they provided a document that I consider one of the best-focused project impact pieces of information that I’ve gotten from an economic development agency,” Mark Sweeney, principal at site selection consulting firm McCallum Sweeney, told Site Selection Magazine.

Not only did Memphis land the plant – it bested around 50 other properties in almost two dozen states that were considered.

Meanwhile, La Crosse, Wis.-based City Brewing Co. has completed its $30 million acquisition of a former Coors plant in Memphis that once made Schlitz, Stroh’s and Coors beer before it began bottling non-alcoholic beverages. In three to five years, that plant will employ 400 to 500 people.

In other big economic development news, lawmakers in Nashville approved bills that represent the state’s investment of more than $90 million to bring Swedish appliance maker Electrolux to Memphis’ Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park.

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey had in recent days thrown a critical spotlight on promises former Gov. Phil Bredesen had made and committed the state to.

Other economic development news still to come: city and county leaders are in the final stages of standing up a new agency to run point in future discussions between corporate leaders and local government officials for recruitment, retention and relocation projects.

Both city and county mayors already have drawn up a list of appointees to the board called the EDGE, which stands for Economic Development Growth Engine. A president still has not been chosen.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told a group of business leaders last month that he hopes the board gets up and running by this summer.