Some Good News on Jobs

It's complicated, but mayors and chamber produce the numbers.

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For the first time since 2006, Memphis and Shelby County had a net increase in jobs and reaped nearly $1.2 billion in new capital investment by private businesses in 2011.

Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell, along with Greater Memphis Chamber president and CEO John Moore, made the joint announcement Tuesday.

"We're not in the red zone any more," said Moore.

Which sort of added to the confusion. The red zone, you see, is good in football, at least for the offense, but bad in economic development. Moore said the eight-county Memphis metro area lost jobs every month from January 2007 to June 2011. But a corner was turned in 2011, when there was a net increase of 15,000 jobs.

Speaking specifically about Memphis and Shelby County, Moore said that in 2011 there was $1,184,098,514 in capital investment and 3,709 new jobs. In recent years, the chamber has focused on Memphis and Shelby County instead of the region, but some government statistical reporting on jobs is still done regionally.

But wait, it gets a bit more complicated. Those are only projects on which the chamber was involved and only projects announced in 2011. So, for example, Electrolux isn't counted because it was announced in 2010. And Bass Pro doesn't count because it is a city deal, not a chamber deal. Job fluctuations at FedEx and AutoZone and Morgan Keegan don't count. And job cuts at Delta Airlines and other employers don't count against the 3,709 new jobs, which is an estimate that could be higher or lower when the projects come on line in 2012 and 2013.

Anyway, no one was in a quibbling mood Tuesday. The bottom line is, well, let's let Wharton do that:

"The bottom line is, Memphis is open for business," said Wharton, adding, "what part of a billion is it that you don't understand?"

"We've seen a huge comeback all of a sudden," said Mark Herbison, senior vice-president of economic development for the chamber.

The total includes 28 projects landed in 2011. The biggest catches include Mitsubishi Electric Power Products (300 jobs), Blues City Brewing (500 jobs), Flextronics (600 jobs), Kruger (100 jobs), and the Great American Steamboat Company (300 jobs).

Mitsubishi got a tax abatement, but Herbison said the company will make $28 million in payments in lieu of taxes over the next 15 years. The city guaranteed a $9 million loan for the Great American Steamboat Company and is building Beale Street Landing and its boat dock, largely with public funds.

But city and chamber officials differentiated those deals from the Electrolux deal, which includes $40 million in incentives from the city and county and $95 million more from the state. Following the announcement, they passed out mock $1 billion bills with the names of 22 expanding companies, few of which are household names.

"The small businesses are the backbone of our growth," said Luttrell.

Electrolux was the topic of an earlier press conference Tuesday at Wharton's office. The Memphis mayor said he is confident that the Canadian transplant, which makes kitchen appliances, will honor its commitment to hiring locally based women- and minority-owned businesses — an issue near and dear to many Memphis City Council members. This week's council agenda includes a "resolution to evaluate economic development using Memphis tax dollars."

Electrolux intends to spend more than 50 percent of the $80 million construction contract locally. To date, $15.3 million worth of work has been awarded, including $14.5 million to local companies. Of that amount, $6.3 million went to firms owned by women and minorities. Contract awards are expected to continue for four months. The plant will be fully operational in 2014, with 1,200 employees. The contractor is Yates Construction.

Asked to explain the scoring system for evaluating favored companies — a black female, for example, could count twice — the mayors ducked it with a joke about not wanting to get into higher mathematics.

Actually, the math is not that complicated, but the politics is. The main thing is to get a black or female representative on your company's list of officers if you want to get some business and stay out of hot water with the council.

As Wharton, an old hand at such matters, put it, "If you wave your hand about working with Electrolux, somebody is going to find you."

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