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VOL. 127 | NO. 21 | Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wharton Q&A Hits on Top Priorities

By Andy Meek

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. gave representatives of the city’s business community a glimpse into his mind Tuesday, Jan. 31, as well as some background on his priorities within the context of his 100-day plan for the city.

In the format of a relaxed question-and-answer session moderated by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Vice President Calvin Anderson, the mayor expounded on annexation, the economy, jobs training, business recruitment and more.

The event at the Memphis Cook Convention Center was the latest in the Greater Memphis Chamber’s “Conversation With …” series.

The first question dealt with annexation – ordinarily a dry topic, but one that came only days after the filing of bills in Nashville by state legislators that would limit Memphis’ future annexation possibilities.

More specifically, those bills reverse the growth plan agreed to by all the municipalities within the county. And Wharton explained why that doesn’t sit well with him.

“It’s as old as the Constitution,” Wharton said of the city’s power to expand its territorial lines. “Cities have to remain viable, and in order to do that they have to expand. It’s a tool in Tennessee law that adds some predictability to how cities can expand.

“We haven’t been in a rush to expand. We didn’t have to.”

Until now, apparently. Monday afternoon, Wharton released a joint statement with Memphis City Council chairman Bill Morrison blasting multiple proposals pending in Nashville that would “stifle Memphis’ ability to grow.”

In that statement, and in his remarks to the Chamber audience, Wharton explained that the city already has begun investing resources in some of the areas targeted by the state proposals. Those resources include an $80 million sewer project and other basic services like fire protection.

“This is a continued all-out assault on Memphis and its right to govern itself,” the joint statement read. “We are calling upon all of our local leaders – whether they be leaders in politics, business or the philanthropic area – and the residents of Memphis to let their state representatives know that this will not stand.”

Only a few hours after his remarks Tuesday, a special-called City Council committee meeting was set to discuss an ordinance that would apparently fast-track an annexation of the Gray’s Creek area of Cordova.

Meanwhile, Wharton went on to say he plans to introduce in the next 100 days a “tightly organized” effort to get people back on company payrolls and into the mainstream of society. It’s a broad effort to bring more wealth and self-sustaining workers into the bloodstream of the city.

And the mayor said it involves giving people the tools they need to “get out there and make it on their own.”

Other topics discussed Tuesday: the city’s revamped economic development toolkit as well as the importance of local and minority contractors participating in projects.

As a testament to the need of the city and county to create the new Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) board, Wharton recounted a meeting he had not long ago with a site location agent over breakfast.

He had a client out of California looking at this area, and Wharton said the site selector had sent the client a proposal that included $25,000 in attorneys’ fees.

When the client asked that proposal to be whittled down, the site selector sent back another proposal. But that one centered on Mississippi and included no attorney fees.

“You don’t even need a lawyer to get in there!” Wharton said, referring to Mississippi. “The point is it was too cumbersome to get into Memphis and Shelby County, and we’ve done something about that.”

By way of addressing the local- and minority-contracting issue, Wharton said dealing with international companies involves different standards for players who are operating on a world stage.

His larger point was that there are few places that can dictate “in ironclad terms” the things that have to be done to land economic development projects.

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751