Last week saw the first meeting of a blue-ribbon local board charged with reviewing the current status of the Memphis area's economic development in general and the efforts toward that end of EDGE (Economic Deveopment and Growth Engine) in particular.
EDGE was created some years ago as a joint city/county enterprise that could coordinate local efforts to solicit new business and industry and buttress those enterprises already here. The idea was to get beyond parochial approaches to development, as well as to stifle infighting and competition between local governments and between business groups.
Though EDGE would seem to have a diligent board and a competent staff, an aura of general dissatisfaction with its accomplishments has settled over the Greater Memphis economic community. Neighbor states and adjacent jurisdictions seem to be having their way with business and industrial newcomers and getting first dibs on many of them. There is brewing controversy over whether EDGE or the Chamber of Commerce should take the lead in selling the Memphis area.
Sentiment is growing on the Memphis City Council favoring the re-establishment of an independent Industrial Development Board, precisely the kind of would-be recruitment vehicle that EDGE was designed to supercede.
As always, various citizens grumble over what they see as over-reliance on PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) arrangements, which, these critics contend, dissipate the tax base of local government and starve necessary human services of the funds they need. And, even as the role of EDGE in the scheme of things is under question, local governments' dissatisfaction with the lack of control and even the amount of input available to them has grown.
As a case in point, the Shelby County Commission has considered of late various means of amending the lines of authority within the board, increasing the number and voting power within it of members from the commission and the city council, whose involvement has been more or less of the token variety. Most recently, a resolution to strip the overall oversight of the EDGE staff from the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County or to moderate their exclusivity, assigning significant oversight to the board, including matters of hiring and firing, was introduced. Though it was not acted upon before the commissioners elected four years ago had to yield to a newly elected commission, the proposal may surface again in some form.
Meanwhile, outgoing commission chair Heidi Shafer performed what can only be regarded as a public service by appointing the aforementioned task force to look into possible changes in the status of EDGE (or presumably a successor body). For the record, that task force consists of four returning members of the county commission — Willie Brooks, Van Turner, Reginald Milton, and Eddie Jones — and six inviduals of unquestioned capability in matters relating to the local economy — Ron Belz, Jack Sammons, Cary Vaughn, Calvin Anderson, Al Bright, Les Binkley, and Carolyn Hardy.
At their first meeting, the task force members resolved to consult extensively with other interested parties and to undertake the researches that will hopefully underpin necessary change. We wish them luck.