VOL. 133 | NO. 75 | Friday, April 13, 2018
Third Annual RegionSmart Summit to Be Held April 26
By Patrick Lantrip
More than 300 government, economic development and community leaders will gather at the third annual RegionSmart Summit this month to discuss some of the Mid-South’s biggest planning issues.
Hosted by the Mid-South Mayors’ Council and the Urban Land Institute’s local affiliate, ULI Memphis, the April 26 summit at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education will tackle topics such as the future of workforce development, transportation and land use.
This year’s featured speakers include Ed McMahon, senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.; Lynn Ross, founder and principal of Spirit for Change Consulting LLC, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to creative solutions for evolving places and people serving the common good; and John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of the financial literacy nonprofit Operation HOPE Inc., and chairman and CEO of Bryant Group Ventures and The Promise Homes Co.
During his speech, McMahon will discuss strategies for successful economic development in the modern world.
“Primarily what I’m going to be talking about is how the economic development model has changed and how Memphis can take advantage of the new model, while focusing on its existing assets,” McMahon said.
One of the things he plans to stress relates to a subject Memphians are pretty aware of: the national bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.
“For most American cities, successful economic development today is not about the one big thing,” McMahon said. “And if it is, you’re giving away the store to get it. New Jersey, for example, has offered $7 billion to Amazon.”
RegionSmart: The 2018 Regional Strategy Summit
Powered by the Mid-South Mayors’ Council
Convened by ULI Memphis
When: Thursday, April 26, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education, 203 S. Main St.
Registration: $125 (includes lunch)
Online: Visit regionsmart.org for details.
Instead of the home-run strategy, McMahon said, he’s going to focus on several key imperatives, including how to attract and retain talent, the importance of connectivity and the power of authentic place-making.
“Too many cities try to copy what somebody else does,” he said. “If you can’t differentiate your city from any other city, you simply have no competitive advantage in a world where people can move anywhere they want, and that sameness is a minus, not a plus.”
He cited Austin, Texas, and the “Keep Austin Weird” mantra that’s helped it become the fastest-growing city in the county.
“It’s not just a funny slogan, it’s an economic imperative,” he said. “Community character really matters in the world we live in today.”
He pointed to National Association of Realtors data that suggest investors increasingly are seeking locations based on the quality of place rather than the utility of that location.
“It’s not about what Memphis doesn’t have, it’s about what Memphis does have,” McMahon said. “Quality of life, which used to be totally unimportant in economic development, is critical today, and I would suggest that the key infrastructure investment for most American cities today is not roads, it is education.”
Additionally, he said many cities rely too heavily on subsidies and tax breaks for corporations.
“It simply pits one community against another community and moves economic activity around,” he said. “Businesses leave or threaten to leave after their subsidies run out. It’s putting all of your eggs in one or two baskets, and the taxpayers end up subsidizing big business.”
Instead, McMahon said, communities should consider investing in themselves.
“Let’s think about another strategy, which might be doing everything you can to make Memphis a great place to live, and to work on developing a skilled workforce, which would create lasting assets that would pay dividends long into the future beyond the initial investment,” he said.
On a local level, he added that Memphis, like a lot of Southern cities, could learn to just say no more often.
“Particularly in the South, one of the biggest impediments to better development is fear of saying no to anything, and one of things we learn (is) if you’re afraid to say no to anything, you’ll get the worst of everything,” he said. “Communities should pick and choose among development projects, because all development is not created equal.”