Liz Keough, a director and shareholder at Martin, Tate, Morrow & Marston PC, works at the epicenter of a business recruitment and retention apparatus in Shelby County that has been redefining itself in a big way for the last year or so.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Keough, who has worked at Martin Tate since 2000, is a frequent presence at meetings of the newly created city-county Economic Development Growth Engine Board, a tax incentive and business development board that’s succeeding the old Industrial Development Board. The “old” IDB is old in the sense that its model is no longer the driver it once was of economic development, even though the IDB still exists.
The creation of the EDGE board heralded a new day in local economic development prospects. The tax freeze no longer serves as the major plum to court companies that also have to weigh multiple incentives from other locales that don’t have all their eggs in one basket. As part of that effort, legal representation that helps the companies wade through what’s available is critical.
Keough has developed something of a specialty in tax incentive work, involving herself in economic development matters for about a decade. She also works with Martin Tate’s economic development section with a team of other lawyers, and she says she’s especially passionate about the negotiation and bridge building that go hand-in-hand with that work.
“I enjoy helping people work toward a common goal,” said Keough, who also has very definite ideas and thoughts about the way the game of economic development – keeping companies here and luring new ones – is being played right now.
First, the program of tax benefits and incentives is always changing. That, she said, has been a hallmark of her years working in the specialty.
“The program expands and contracts in response to economic conditions,” she noted. “I do think all the leadership now realizes that we’ve got to be creative in how we do things. Incentives should be tailor-made to the company.”
In addition to negotiating tax incentive packages, her work at Martin Tate runs the gamut from real estate to general business law and commercial litigation.
She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1992 and got her law degree from the University of Memphis in 1995. Her community activities include writing for “Memphis Lawyer,” the magazine of the Memphis Bar Association.
And she’s a member of the Tennessee and American Bar associations, as well as a graduate of the Tennessee Bar Association Leadership Law class of 2008.
She’s matter-of-fact in describing how she chose law as a career many years ago.
“I like to read. I like to write. I like to argue,” she said, managing a chuckle at that last line.
She assumed early on that, as a lawyer, she’d spend most of her days in court. Reflecting on that time, she said if her younger self knew she’d be spending most of her time, not in court, but doing tax deals and other real estate and commercial matters – “which I love” – she’d have been surprised.
It’s worked out well for Keough, though, and she has advice for younger attorneys.
“You need your career to be well-suited to you and your temperament,” she said. “You’re going to spend most of your life working. And we do our best work at what we enjoy.”