Sunday, April 01, 2007

Editorial: Mayors prime new jobs pump

The Commercial Appeal [Link]
April 1, 2007

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton last week pledged $1.25 million in county funds for economic development in the 2008 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton says he will seek up to $1.5 million in city funds for the effort.

An economic development plan prepared for local government and business leaders makes a persuasive case that the mayors' investments, which are subject to County Commission and City Council approval, are not only sound but perhaps even urgent.

Local business leaders are also being prodded to devote more resources to the task of marketing Memphis to the world and sending our best and our brightest out on recruiting missions to sell the community to potential investors.

A draft of the plan obtained by The Commercial Appeal last week represents one part of a four-part series of strategic plans that also address crime, government efficiency and education-workforce development.

Because Memphis and Shelby County operate "the most under-funded economic development program" in the nation, we apparently have been lucky to get companies like Nucor and ServiceMaster to invest in the community, the report implies.

And while comparisons are often onerous, it may be somewhat instructive to note that while local governments were spending $350,000 on economic development here in 2006, Nashville was spending $3 million.

One of the plan's most useful elements may be its list of 15 disparate strategies for progress in Memphis that engage our attention from time to time but are rarely considered as parts of a coherent whole.

The list ranges from the creation of a national entrepreneurship "center of excellence" to internal and external marketing campaigns to tout the community's assets.

Benefits would flow, as well, from the development of a "seamless" linear park system linking Shelby Farms Park, the riverfront and other parkland via the Wolf River Greenway, Memphis Greenline and other green corridors.

Resolving the ticklish legal issues surrounding the riverfront promenade would be part of an overall plan to invigorate the city's Downtown and Mississippi riverfront. [Emphasis added]

Some of the newer ideas for economic development, such as enhancing the city's international role as an "aerotropolis" and expanding its biosciences industry, are given the prominent role they deserve, along with old standbys like tourism, the music industry and tax incentives.

The infrastructure exists to advance most of these strategies, although a cabinet-level, publicly funded city and county Office of Economic Development would make them easier to pursue.

At the heart of the report is a new five-year, $66 million plan that would attempt to take Memphis into the big leagues of economic development, where the game is played like a "hyper-competitive survival of the fittest in which the winners grow stronger and the losers find it increasingly more difficult to make headway in the race to compete."

Support for the ideas in the plan is easy to voice, and this one will be greeted with enthusiasm. The more difficult task is finding the money to fix the community's shortcomings and put it on a fast track to fortune.

While Wharton and Herenton tally up funding, it will be instructive to see who else wants to get on board.

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