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VOL. 127 | NO. 93 | Friday, May 11, 2012

Townsend Links Businesses With Economic Resources

By Andy Meek

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When it comes to economic development, the administration of Tennesee Gov. Bill Haslam is working hard to convince new businesses to set up shop in the state.


But an important guiding principle in that work is the state can’t do it in a vacuum.

Any gains from businesses moving in to the state might quickly get blunted if businesses already here get neglected.

To help keep that from happening, the state has people like Ted Townsend.

He’s the greater Memphis regional director for the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. Townsend is a Memphian – his office is Downtown, and he lives in Midtown. He also has private sector experience here.

Townsend was a co-founder and former chief operating officer of arGentis Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Memphis, which during his tenure raised $2 million from angel and institutional investors. He’s also served as executive vice president and managing partner of Agile Minds LLC, a health care and life sciences consulting firm.

Today, his role with the state means he brings that business background to bear in helping businesses figure out what they need to grow and thrive in his regional territory, which includes Lauderdale, Tipton, Shelby and Fayette counties.

Townsend describes his role as bringing the “proximity of government” closer to home for business. That is, to make the presence of what’s available at the state level – the tools, programs, agencies and professionals who comprise the state’s economic development apparatus – felt on Main Street.

“We have met just this year alone with nearly 300 businesses,” Townsend said. “It makes a lot of sense to focus on those and to leverage our wealth of assets in providing the tools necessary to help those businesses grow.

“I also think it’s important to thank them for being here. I know the governor has always done that in meetings, because we understand they do have a choice. And that it’s very competitive out there.”

“This is very meaningful work for me.”

 –Ted Townsend
Memphis regional director, 
Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development

To help better meet some of those needs, Haslam and ECD commissioner Bill Hagerty last year announced the selection of new regional directors – including Townsend – as part of a reorganization of ECD. It cemented a regional focus for the department and the new directors serving as the main point of contact for companies.

That includes being the point of contact for companies seeking state assistance with expansion or with accessing state services.

“I know what it’s like for them to come in each day and face the challenge of running a business,” Townsend said.

For example, arGentis, the company he co-founded, is a privately held biopharmaceutical company involved in licensing, development and commercialization of therapies for auto-immune and ophthalmic diseases.

“This is very meaningful work for me,” Townsend said of his ECD job. “It’s certainly not the state’s position to create jobs. We want to create an environment so that the private sector can create those jobs and create economic prosperity.

“So the bulk of our time is spent meeting with those businesses, both large and small. But we can’t do this alone. And there’s quite a heavy lift in front of us, based on unemployment and just the challenges from the macroeconomic level we’ve faced for the last several years.”

The mission of ECD regional directors like Townsend who live in distinct areas across the state includes having primary responsibility for working with existing companies, aligning workforce development strategies and developing a regional strategic plan.

“I’ve got a great team here full of experienced economic development professionals,” Townsend said. “And it’s nice to be able to say there are now tools out there that didn’t exist when I was starting a company.”

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