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VOL. 132 | NO. 156 | Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Michael Graber

Inviting a New Vision for Memphis Region

Michael Graber

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Memphis has been blessed to give birth to the modern grocery store, rock ‘n’ roll, and such corporate category leaders as Holiday Inn, FedEx and AutoZone. These native inventions became the basis of our regional economy after the slow demise of the agrarian culture when cotton was king.

We have moved from the agrarian economy through the industrial one and now are midway through the post-industrial age. As a city and region, we have little notion of how we thrive in the post-industrial age. In fact, our most vibrant industry sector – logistics and transportation – has matured.

Yet, we still seek to be “America’s distribution center,” it seems. When Coppertone moved its warehousing and distribution away from Memphis so it could better ship across the globe, it should have served as a shrill wake-up call.

Logistics is now a global game, so being “America’s distribution center” just damns the regional economy to a steady decline, preserving the wealth of the few who own the large logistics companies but not generating new industries or a new competitive advantage.

Yes, we have brought some manufacturing here and having ServiceMaster stay is a short-term boon, but the region cannot continue to compete by giving out PILOTs like Halloween candy. Being a low-cost place to do business is akin to price wars at retail; no one wins in the end.

Let this column serve as a call to action for the entire Memphis region. The factors and forces that have made the region what it is will not sufficiently empower our economy to thrive if we continue down the same path.

How will the region build the next phase of its logistics core, diversify its economy, raise the skill level of its workforce, and adapt its governance for post-industrial economic growth in a phased, strategic approach?

Where are those brave, grandiose entrepreneurs that we need?

Can some of the manufacturers in the region transform their mindset, culture and ambition and turn into leading brand companies?

Our long-term success depends upon the choices we make now. Memphis and Shelby County must realize that aligning objectives is the first move. Seeing more companies move their headquarters to the suburbs is an interesting trend and another wake-up call for the city. We need a profound acknowledgement that the city and county share an economic destiny.

To prosper we must take action in three ways: collaborate, connect and converge.

Where is a single roadmap that builds upon our assets and heritage while catalyzing the core? Where is the vital collaboration that includes elected officials, businesses, civic leaders, nonprofits and universities?

Connecting the industry clusters and connecting the interests of the region into a shared vision where we know, for example, that what benefits Germantown is best for Memphis and what behooves Bartlett is a boon to Lakeland. We live in a new world where united metropolitan regions – not individual cities – set the standard of successful economic development.

When the region converges into a singular growth engine, it will gather the momentum, opportunities, access to capital and talent required to reach a scale and quality of life that we can only dream about today.

Michael Graber, managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, can be reached at southerngrowthstudio.com.

PROPERTY SALES 93 424 6,970
MORTGAGES 42 281 4,410
BUILDING PERMITS 196 704 16,619
BANKRUPTCIES 38 174 3,570