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VOL. 127 | NO. 95 | Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fast Forward

A new agenda is at hand for local economic development efforts

By Andy Meek

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Local economic development leaders have been talking for a while now about a transition from one five-year strategy – a plan that’s helped guide the addition of thousands of new local jobs to the local economy – to a new vision that carries things forward.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., left, and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are spearheading new economic development efforts in the city and county. Those efforts will be addressed during a May 23 luncheon, “Memphis Fast Forward: The Power of Collective Impact.”

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

And that new vision will take effect soon.

First, representatives of the players involved in the game of recruiting new businesses, growing the ones already here and promoting slightly related civic goals will come together next week to break bread and talk about the future. At a luncheon May 23 billed as “Memphis Fast Forward: The Power of Collective Impact,” the people and organizations that have been responsible for “five years of community progress” (from 2007 to 2011) will be thanked and honored.

That progress has been pursued within the four pillars of the Memphis Fast Forward plan – safe neighborhoods, good jobs, an educated workforce and efficient government. The Memphis Fast Forward co-chairs are Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Gary Shorb, chairman of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. They, and others gathered next week, will talk about the economic development framework that comes next.

The luncheon will underscore the work of the Memphis Shelby Growth Alliance, which is the successor to the five-year MemphisED plan. It fills an important place in the local economic development framework that includes the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) organization, as well as the Greater Memphis Chamber and Memphis Tomorrow, a group of local CEOs.

The chairman of the Growth Alliance is Bill Evans, director & CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The director of the Growth Alliance is John Lawrence.

EDGE is the new agency that serves as the incentive-granting, red-tape cutting body for businesses after an organization like the chamber has done the front-end work.

“The individual initiatives that were started five years ago, MemphisED and Operation Safe Community, have both been reborn,” said EDGE president Reid Dulberger. “We’ve made great progress, but in neither case have we done all that needs to be done. The Growth Alliance is a much broader-based organization than MemphisED was. There are many more people sitting at the table. In fact, the Growth Alliance has a board, whereas MemphisED never did.

“Also, they’re taking into account things we know that have yet to be done.”

To get a flavor of what has been done, Shorb, at a meeting of state leaders last year, said economic development officials have kept Memphis and Shelby County competitive despite the prolonged recession. Shorb pointed to 13,316 new jobs with an average annual wage of $40,430 from January 2008 to June 2011.

The city and county administrations have both been wrapped up in fiscal year budget negotiations over the last several weeks. And Luttrell and Wharton, especially, have been working through what their funding decisions will be for entities like EDGE and the chamber.

Both mayors have expressed strong commitment to funding the related agencies. In public statements, at least, they still appear to be working through what the relationship among those groups will be and what role the city and county administrations will play.

“I can’t make this point enough: The community continues to grow and evolve, and those of us engaged in some aspect of public policy issues need to grow and evolve with it,” Dulberger said.

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