Thursday, May 29, 2008

Continuing The Conversation: Making Memphis Competitive

We began a conversation yesterday to come up with a list of priorities that we need if Memphis is to compete in the knowledge economy. We hope you will join in.

Here's what fieldguidetomemphis would add to our list:

Investment in Universities: This is a no-brainer. The budget cuts that will affect higher education are truly unfortunate. We should always prioritize investing in education. Moreover, we have tremendous research engines and very smart and capable local talent already living and working here at the universities, and their knowledge and expertise should be sought out for local business growth, feasibility and projections studies. Why we continually outsource when we have the local resources makes no sense.

Redevelopment in the Urban Core: Let's start with Overton Square. I would love to see that big ugly parking lot which is running off businesses turned into a park, with landscaping and grass and a place for people and pets to socialize. I've mentioned this to others who comment that it will attract homeless people. Pshaw. So we shouldn't have public spaces because public people might show up? This makes no sense. Homelessness and public parks are related but separate issues.

Transportation: We must have some MATA schedules and routes that make sense (i.e. not routing people so that they have to spend the night on Lamar).

Understanding our Competitive Context AND Building a 21st Century Workforce AND Eco-Assets: Look soon for a comprehensive FieldGuide plan to the Green Economy in Memphis and Shelby County. It builds on our regional assets and is a viable strategy for getting people to work in jobs that are good for people, communities and the environment. Many of the available jobs in our area can't be filled with the existing workforce because many people - 100,000 or so - have less than or only a high school diploma and the well-paying jobs require more than that. Yet jobs for people with low levels of education need not be exploitative of workers or the environment.

The best thing to add to your already very smart list is investing in a comprehensive Green Collar Jobs and Green Economy strategy. Green Collar Jobs are blue collar jobs in green industries - ones that pay a living wage, have benefits, a career ladder, make use of existing resources and assets, and promote smart growth and good stewardship of the environment.

Unfortunately we have some "framing" work to do on this issue because when people hear the word Green, they think polar bears and global warming - or cursory changes like changing light bulbs or shutting off the tap while brushing your teeth. This is certainly part of the Green picture, but not what is intended for in our local economic strategy.