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VOL. 131 | NO. 79 | Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mid-South Mayors Don’t See Barriers In Regionalism

By Madeline Faber

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It took the Mississippi River’s devastating flood in 2011 for Mid-South leaders to consider greater collaboration among the area’s 10 counties and three states.

At the first meeting of the Mid-South Mayors’ Council, area leaders came together to elevate conversations around issues that affect the region.

(ULI Memphis)

Mid-South mayors came together to plot their way out of disaster, and that convening set the stage for a formal alliance, the Mid-South Mayors’ Council.

“Whenever we had a disaster, that’s when you start talking about regionalism more specifically,” said Tipton County Mayor Jeff Huffman. “We’re all affected by this great natural barrier and natural resource here. Maybe we ought to plan together better on how we’re going to deal with these issues in the future.”

That same year, Urban Land Institute Memphis received a grant from the national ULI Foundation to launch the Mid-South Mayors’ Council, a regional group representing mayors in eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi and southwest Tennessee.

As a non-political group, ULI Memphis has convened groups around local issues like the future of the Soulsville neighborhood and the Mid-South Coliseum and Fairgrounds. A cross-state, cross-county convening would be one of their most far-reaching initiatives.

The inaugural convening of the Mid-South Mayors’ Council in 2013 marked the first time the leaders gathered together under the banner of regionalism.

“At first, it was one of those things where we were just getting acquainted, seeing what are we doing here. But then we started getting into some subjects that are significant,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

At the first meeting, the former mayor of Pittsburgh and the current mayor of Edina, Minn., spoke to the group about their success in establishing a common platform with surrounding municipalities. Frank Ricks, principal at Memphis architecture firm Looney Ricks Kiss and board member with ULI Memphis, believes that a similar view on regionalism makes for better policy and competitiveness in a national arena.

“Because we are three states, I think it’s easy for us to get hung up on those boundaries, and all that does is reduce our chances of being successful and competing with other areas that are competing collectively, like Minneapolis and Pittsburgh where there are far more municipalities within those regions than we have here,” he said.

RegionSmart, the 2016 regional strategy conference presented by the Mid-South Mayors’ Council

April 28, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The Halloran Centre, 203 S. Main St.

Register at regionsmart.org

The initial group of 11 mayors met regularly to discuss issues that reached beyond their individual cities. Each work session focused around a regional issue, including disaster preparedness, site selection criteria, education attainment and workforce development.

About a year ago, the conversation grew even broader. ULI Memphis and the mayors switched gears to develop the RegionSmart conference, which will bring together over 200 business and municipal leaders around concerns like regional transportation and the impact of demographic shifts on the Mid-South economy.

“We don’t want to make it just another political confab,” Luttrell said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve done locally.”

Luttrell’s hope is that the regional conversation that started with nearly a dozen mayors spreads to the business community, urban planning groups and citizens.

“You have to try to get clear in your head what’s a barrier and what’s not. And to do that, you need to think from a citizen standpoint,” Huffman said. “Citizens aren’t that interested in a city boundary or county boundary. They, like folks that represent companies looking to build manufacturing plants, care less about limits. They look at market share, traffic patterns and quality of education in that area. We need to be working on those issues, as a region.”

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