With both Smith & Nephew and Pinnacle Airlines announing layoffs in December, the city could probably use a little economic good news.
And that's exactly what the new Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) hopes to offer.
Memphis mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell created the EDGE board to assist prospective employers who want to move into the city or county. The goal is to transform Memphis into one of the nation's most sought after cities for building, expanding, or relocating a business.
The first president of the EDGE board, Reid Dulberger, assumes office this week, and he took some time out to talk with the Flyer about his goals, his salary, and the benefits of being a good listener.
— Louis Goggans
Flyer: What will EDGE do for the city?
Reid Dulberger: It's designed to be a catalyst, coordinator, and convener to help promote job growth. EDGE is designed to be the focal point for public-sector economic development in Shelby County.
As president of EDGE, your annual salary will be more than both the city and county mayors. Do you think this position warrants $175,000 a year?
At the end of the day, the mayors made that decision. They obviously know what they make, and they know what they were willing to pay for the position. The mayors set the salary range for EDGE based on their research and the research of the executive search firm that they engaged.
In the past, you've held economic development positions in Syracuse, New York, and Youngstown, Ohio. How does Memphis differ from those areas economically?
When I worked in Syracuse, which was in the late '80s and early '90s, it was very difficult to attract out-of-state economic development. New York state was a very high-taxed location. Not many people wanted to move there.
In Ohio, there were a number of issues that made it difficult. I worked in a Rust Belt community struggling with the demise of the steel industry and difficulties in the auto industry. That's a very different environment from what we have in Memphis. We are simply a phenomenal place to distribute product, which attracts all sorts of attention.
You've been noted as a good listener regarding economic development. Has listening to people in the community helped you with ideas for EDGE?
[People] have opinions. They have ideas. They have concerns. They have frustrations. These folks are not only passionate, but they're committed and engaged. Despite the fact that everything I hear I may not agree with or make an EDGE priority, I have certainly heard some interesting concepts for developing ideas that EDGE may well want to become involved with. There are nuggets of pure gold out there, and if you are lucky enough [to have] people offering them up, and you're patient enough to listen and think about them, you can often find some great ideas.
What do you seek to accomplish with EDGE?
[It's] a strong, aggressive local economic development organization that can accomplish many things, and it's up to us and it's up to me and it's up to the board to make sure that we get the most bang for our buck. At the end of the day, my goal is to make sure when people look back on EDGE's work, they say not only did they accomplish a lot, but we don't know how they could've done any more.