The joint venture between the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) and the Chamber would work to establish a data-driven, accountable approach to recruiting and attracting business from outside of the the region. The new body would be governed by a board with representatives from the city, county, Chamber, and EDGE.
The board will set goals, give quarterly reports on the progress of those goals, and be evaluated on success annually. Reid Dulberger, CEO of EDGE said the new joint venture will accelerate growth and “create a more dynamic and sustainable community” by coupling new research capabilities and targeted economic development opportunities with public goals and accountability.
The changes are an effort of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, as well as Richard Smith, Chamber chairman and president of Fedex Trade Network; Beverly Robertson, interim Chamber president and CEO; Al Bright Jr., EDGE board chairman; and Dulberger.
Strickland said the joint venture is in line with his priority of making data-driven decisions and holding institutions accountable.
“We’ve worked closely to build consensus with government and business partners around this new joint venture, which is in line with my priorities of making data-driven decisions and holding institutions accountable,” Strickland said. “This is a new day in the economic development structure in Memphis, and we’re all coming together to accelerate our job growth.”
Though there are currently about 14,000 more people working in Memphis than three years ago, Strickland said that the main challenge to economic development is the workforce. These proposed changes, he said, are just part of the solution to increasing development, citing other obstacles to economic growth like crime.
“We have momentum in Memphis, and we’re at a time in our history that calls for accelerating that growth,” Strickland said. “These improvements are only part of the equation to increase economic development — working hand-in-hand with our work to reduce crime, reduce poverty, and invest in our neighborhoods — but they are meaningful.
“We must address our No. 1 economic development challenge, which is workforce. And we must make sure that existing businesses, where most of our job growth has taken place recently, are just as equipped to accelerate, too.”
Bright of EDGE said the joint venture will allow for more resources to go toward job recruitment and retention here, as well as help create a new focus for the board, allowing its approach to be more targeted.
“This formal partnership will allow us to put more resources behind recruitment and retention of jobs,” Smith said. “It will focus us on being more targeted in our approach, more responsive to existing employers looking to expand here, and will ensure seamless support across the entire business development ecosystem.
“Furthermore, it creates greater alignment between both public and private sectors and will allow for strategic oversight and goal setting based upon community priorities, with the built in accountability for driving outcomes that will ultimately create more jobs for Memphians.”
The joint venture is just one of the changes government and business leaders are looking to implement to the local economic development ecosystem. Other parts of the proposal look to increase connectivity, improve the workforce, and assist existing local businesses.
Additionally, Strickland is proposing a new EDGE position — a vice president of workforce development, who will work to connect local employers with training and educational avenues.