by Hannah Sayle
Perhaps you’re one of the many Memphians left scratching your head at the thought of his Excellency Monsieur François Delattre visiting Memphis. You’re asking yourself what could possibly connect Memphis and France, or perhaps you’re wondering why we didn’t offer to meet him in the French Riviera instead…
I had the opportunity to sit down with Monsieur Delattre at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens to talk about his weekend visit to our fair city. The end of the Dixon's Jean-Louis Forain exhibition provided the perfect occasion to discuss the cultural exchange between Memphis and France, but I also found a number of economic connections between Memphis and France that many Memphians might not be aware of.
Memphis Flyer: Thank you for meeting with me. I know you’ve already had a very busy visit. What are your main goals in coming to Memphis?
M. Delattre: You know, I came here with one core objective, which was really to discover this [Forain] exhibition, which I strongly believe is a world-class exhibition of one of our very best and brightest French Impressionists. And what the Dixon Gallery was able, and Florence [Valdes-Forain] was able to achieve through this exhibition was just incredible. It’s a source of inspiration and admiration, not only for me, but for many people. The second objective was to meet some of the key players of Memphis and Tennessee.
MF: Who are some of the key leaders you have met with so far?
M. Delattre: Governor Haslam, whom I met yesterday and discussed the different ways we can promote French investment in Tennessee in specific sectors. Then this morning with Mayor Wharton, on the ways to promote exchanges between Memphis and various cities in France, having expertise in urban innovation, attracting foreign investment, this kind of thing.
M. Delattre: What struck me is the vision of the mayor. He has a clear, long-term vision of the economic development of this city. The second thing I would say is what the mayor told me that really struck me is that he wants to have Memphis on the cultural map, and he also wants to put Memphis more on the economic map. When a French investor wants to invest in the United States, traditionally he thinks New York. Mayor Wharton completely understands that and gave us very good arguments and reasons for a French investor willing to penetrate the American market to begin with Memphis. I think we will be able to deliver on that and give the mayor a new range of potential French investors.
MF: So your visit has been not only cultural, but economic as well?
M. Delattre: Yes, always the two tracks: the cultural one, how to build on the tremendous success of the Jean-Louis Forain exhibition to develop cultural ties in the future, and the economic track, how to strengthen ties with France as a whole and French cities in particular and Memphis.
MF: What particular sectors of Memphis’ economy are potentially attractive to French investors?
M. Delattre: Two examples among others. Biotech. The mayor was very convincing in the way he described the biotech sector as one of the assets of the city and it is of course one of the priorities in France. And in a sector related to biotech, medical research, and the fight against cancer in particular. Here there is huge potential of cooperation with French institutions like Institut Curie and others.
MF: You also met with Fred Smith.
M. Delattre: Yes, you know that FedEx is one of the top American investors in my country and in particular the Charles de Gaulle airport facilities. So we visited last night the site of FedEx and it was very impressive and this morning we had a meeting with Fred Smith — a very concrete meeting — to see together how we can help promote FedEx investment in France. It’s important to remember that the FedEx facilities in Charles de Gaulle airport are the largest FedEx hub outside the United States. It’s a tremendous testimony to the attractiveness and competitiveness of France as a whole. Those were among the key meetings I had. It could not have been more productive.
MF: How could we improve upon the relations between Memphis and Paris via FedEx?
M. Delattre: Based on FedEx, the French Minister for Urban Affairs, Maurice Leroy, went to Memphis in April and signed an agreement to develop cross-investments in Memphis and Paris based on the FedEx component, and to make FedEx platforms in Charles de Gaulle a hub for further investment.