Thursday, July 02, 2009

Electing To Talk About The Things That Matter

Contrary to the opinion of many economic development officials, tax freezes are not an indicator of success for Memphis.

Rather, they are clear indications of our failure to create the more competitive city that we need for a new economic era.

In other words, for 20 years, we have had an over-reliance on tax freezes, AKA payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, while complaining that we had to do it because we don’t have enough arrows in our business incentive quiver. In that entire time, there’s been no significant movement to correct the problem, and instead, we just stay content in giving away taxes to make companies love us.

Rather than selling themselves at a discount -- cheap land and cheap labor and tax give-aways – cities that are succeeding are investing in better workers, high-quality universities, quality of life and efficient public services.

These should be major issues in the upcoming city mayor's election, because our city is in a perilous place right now. We're bleeding people, and more importantly, hemorrhaging income. We've averaged a loss of three 25-34 year-olds every day for the past 18 years.

So, what are some of the issues that should be discussed as part of a comprehensive economic growth plan? Here's some of the issues on our list:

• Investments in Universities. Universities are seedbeds for the Knowledge Economy. Cities with research universities have a head start in this economy, because they create the innovation and the intellectual capital needed today. Meanwhile, we are one of the fortunate few cities with our own College of Art, and it should be leveraged as a hub for the creative culture that attracts talented workers.

• Redevelopment in the Urban Core. Memphis has significant underdeveloped and vacant land. The infrastructure in these older areas has been paid for and their reuse makes the wisest investment of scarce public funds. Memphis is a shrinking city and we need to create a new formula for analyzing annexation (and possibly deannexation) that often distracts our attention for the area that matters most - the urban core.

• Balanced Transportation Policy. Memphis should lobby federal and state government to revamp its allocation regulations for urban areas. Too often, federal funding has continued traditional patterns of spending on new roads in suburban areas while neglecting the importance of investing in urban redevelopment and mass transit. Local government should adopt a "complete streets" policy for all transportation policies and it should set out to provide a 21st century public transit system for our region.

• Technology Clusters. Wise cities develop an area of specialization within the technology field based upon university research, biomedical assets, etc. Clusters provide a competitive edge and a critical mass that are important to economic growth. That’s why when we want to see the future, we need to look toward the Bioworks Foundation. Also, the Foundation teaches us that our best chances for success in the future is in defining our distinctive niches.

• Local Innovation. The best answers to the future begin on our own Main Street today. Solutions from another city transplanted or replicated are less successful because they are artificial. Our best answers are our own, answers produced organically from a reservoir of innovation and creativity that is embedded throughout Memphis. That doesn't mean that we should not draw inspiration from other cities' successes, but we should resist the temptation to move them wholesale to our city.

• Understanding Our Competitive Context. Memphis starts with a strong dose of honesty, understanding its competitive context, including market and demographic trends in the region and its strengths and liabilities. Most of all, we need to use new measures that matter in the knowledge economy rather than on the indicators from traditional economic development. Memphis can find its distinctive niche to leap frog ahead of other cities, but it must be based on solid research that sparks more imaginative strategies. Most of all, it needs to begin immediately.

• Fixing the Basics. Local government needs to concentrate on fixing the basics, such as safety, taxes, services, land, infrastructure and schools. Governments must look for ways to streamline its structure and improve public services. A foundation of efficient, effective public services is what successful economic growth is built on, and setting aside all the grand projects and big plans, what the public wants most is a city that is safe, clean and attractive.

• Acting (As Well As Talking) Regionally. Memphis talks a good game of regionalism, but we’ve never truly engrained regional thinking into our plans and actions. Too often, we lapse into a “we versus them” mentality and a “if you’re winning, we must be losing” attitude when it comes to our neighboring cities and counties. Economic activity and innovation occur in a regional context, and we ignore this at our peril. It is increasingly clear that Memphis and its suburbs are inextricably linked into a single economic unit, and the war of words serves neither of us.

• Vibrant Culture. To compete, Memphis must be an attractive, dynamic place. Vibrant arts and culture - think Memphis Art Park - are powerful ways of creating the appealing, enjoyable quality of life needed to attract and retain the best and brightest young workers. Too often, we treat our culture - that's with a small "c" as in our history and character - as tourist amenities, but in truth, its value is much broader since quality of life is a chief determinant in workforce growth. That's why arts planning should be as much about creating a culture of creativity as raising money for the anchors of the arts community.

• Thinking and Acting Collaboratively. This requires a shift in leadership styles from traditional authoritarian models to a new environment of inclusion, mutual influence and community building. Opening the door wider to all segments of the community and inviting new voices to engage in decision-making is the mark of a mature and competitive city. It also demands that city government get serious about imbedding technology in all of its operations, opening up government to the people who pay for it.

• A 21st Century Workforce. For Memphis to win in the race for economic prosperity, it needs smart and skilled workers producing goods and services characterized by innovation, knowledge and quality. If we are content to compete in the global economy by offering cheap wages, cheap land and cheap taxes, we are fighting for the bottom rungs of the economy. What’s needed is a team of public and private sector partners dedicated to building the skills needed for quality knowledge-based jobs, providing lifelong learning opportunities, improving the competitiveness of all workers and employers, connecting workforce development to economic needs and building a stronger education pipeline to produce skilled workers in the global economy.

• Competition on a Global Scale. To succeed, Memphis needs to develop cooperative networks and more sophisticated strategies for the global marketplace. Too often, international business is treated as an extension of traditional domestic economic development, and as a result, we often fail. Memphis needs a strategic plan of action tailored for the new world marketplace, and this includes helping business clusters gain access to global markets, finding opportunities for trade, investment and international partnerships and lobbying for federal policies that protect workers at high-risk for dislocation.

• Developing a Powerful Brand. Cities are no different from business. They need an authentic brand that tells the world who they are and what they stand for. Memphis needs a powerful brand, and it is not a slogan or a bumper sticker. A “real” city brand tells the rest of the country what we singularly stand for. That said, it's not about telling our story better; it's about creating a better story to tell.

• High-Quality Eco-Assets. Green assets are key to compete successfully for the workers we need for the Knowledge Economy. Preserved and protected open spaces, safe and attractive public spaces, better quality public sphere, greenbelts, clean air and water and outdoor recreation are not just wonderful public assets. More precisely, they are competitive advantages. Sustainable Shelby must be fully implemented, but it is only a start.

• A Reputation for Tolerance. Today, new workers are recruited just as often from India as Indiana. Memphis is competing as much with the country of Georgia as the state of Georgia. In order to compete, Memphis must have a well-founded reputation for tolerance and respect for various cultures, races and religions. Cities known for their low levels of tolerance will also become known for their low levels of economic growth, as we are proving already.

These are a few things that come to mind, but we suspect you have some of your own. If you do, please post them here.


Zippy the giver said...

Got a plan to make all that happen?
I see few, yet, historically potent obstacles.
The biggest one is the one not addressed.

Zippy the giver said...

The white elephant and the 400lb gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about wins again.

Zippy the giver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zippy the giver said...

• Investments in Universities.
because they create the innovation and the intellectual capital needed today.

No they don't they only nurture intellectual people and there is an old saying, "an idiot with an education is an educated idiot." Really need to learn that.

• Redevelopment in the Urban Core.
No argument there.

• Balanced Transportation Policy.
How long will this take to actually happen...too long?

• Technology Clusters.
Running on fumes with this one. "Left Behind".

• Local Innovation. The best answers to the future begin on our own Main Street today. Solutions from another city transplanted or replicated are less successful because they are artificial.

Really? How would you know? We have shortchanged EVERY single one of them to make sure they wouldn't work.

• Fixing the Basics.
How long will this take?
Too long.

• Understanding Our Competitive Context. Memphis starts with a strong dose of honesty,.
That would be a refreshing change. Seems like we start with veiled slavery and racism perpetrated by one group of politicians and one family of politicians in particular.

#8 • Acting (As Well As Talking) Regionally.
If you have something that is called for to offer, the world will beat a path to your door. That hasn't changed. What do we offer other than cheapness, really?

• Fixing the Basics.
How long, seriously, a time limit is set, how long is that time limit, put it in writing and meet it or exceed it. How long will this take?

• Vibrant Culture.
This is a symptom of success and success at education from Kindergarten to graduate degrees and every other form uin between including, in our special case, EFFECTIVE rehabilitation, better than 80% or this will take till all our exconvicts die of old age. Memphis will be long gone by then, better do something NOW.

• Thinking and Acting Collaboratively.

• A 21st Century Workforce.
If we are content to compete in the global economy by offering cheap wages, cheap land and cheap taxes, we are fighting for the bottom rungs of the economy.
Wrong! If that's all you have, you arebn't even in the competition, you are dying.

• Competition on a Global Scale.
See #8.

• Developing a Powerful Brand.
You can blow this one off, it's a big red herring, let the world beat a path to your door for your desirable thing and they will hang a desirable moniker on Memphis,
Example: Memphis was NOT globally known as the home of Elvis till Elvis had a globally desired product.
Elvis is not producing product anymore, fedex only ships and needs low ed workers, we got nuttin. Are politicians are complicit in the reason why education is abysmal here, it isn't ALL the union's fault.

• High-Quality Eco-Assets.
Except that we haven't developed our revolutionary product, manufacturing innovation, installation, or, distribution of said product which will turn our worst into our best.

• A Reputation for Tolerance.
In 40 years and before that we have not developed this sorely missing SIDE EFFECT of success, because, we haven't had success.

Aaron said...

I recently visited Thaddeus Matthews blog after a conversation with a friend last night about tolerance and collaboration between blacks and whites.

For the first time I grasped what Smart City means when they refer to the "if they are winning, we must be losing" mindset. Matthews embodied that attitude and I am wondering just how pervasive that attitude is in the city both among the whites and the blacks.

Matthews was interviewing A.C. Wharton who was completely cool despite Matthews bent. Matthews was obsessed with how A.C. was going to prevent "white power brokers" from taking over the city and how he would demonstrate how he was loyal, unlike Lowery, to the black community.

For example: here is Matthews on Myron Lowery:

"Lowery who is known in the Black community as a "Sell-out Negro" is just another tool of White power brokers in Memphis determined to take control of the mayor's office."

The fact that Matthews is having these type of conversations deeply concerns me about how our community can collaboratively move forward. Is Matthews an anomaly or is he simply one of the people brave or foolish enough to vocalize a mindset among both the whites and blacks?

Let's hope that A.C can bridge that divide of mistrust and obliterate that "we win you lose" attitude because if we don't we'll never move beyond our own interests, our vision will be limited by this attitude and the city will continue to remain warped by a mentality that would have died had MLKs "I have a dream" speech been realized.

In the meantime for the sake of our collective moral, let's focus on meeting new leaders, black or white, who's views and visions have not been distorted and crushed by this wickedly perverted mentality.

Zippy the giver said...

Don't they call him "Thud" Matthews?
He's a shill for the recalcitrant incumbents.
I met their money guy, I met the Ford's money guy. After that, It's no wonder why things are the way they are.
They have no intention of making Memphis a better city whatsoever. It's not even in the equation.
They aren't even helping out anyone on a basis of easing racism.
What they are doing is grabbing power for themselves and bilking everyone, especially the poor, while blaming whites. Anyone who is running for office in Memphis who isn't in their pocket gets the moniker "Thud" gives to Lowery, "Sellout".
He seems like less of a sellout to me than they are, they sold their souls for power and they believe in no higher power. THAT is a guarantee.
The fact that AC even went on that clowns show is telling, very telling.
Thud needs ignoring.
He's just another cog in the often used wheel of racism by many black politicians in Memphis. It's too old hat now.

I think the city should sue any of them that even begin to start up any racial unrest by using the federal hate crimes laws and make sure they get fined heavily and get nice long sentences, like the ones Memphis has been serving Thud included, this machine must be destroyed.

Aaron said...

You know Zippy, if I hadn't seen the interview and read a few of Thads posts I would have disagreed with you but after hearing him, your assessment seems reasonable.

Although you read too much into why A.C. Wharton was present for the interview. He had his reasons for being there and I am sure he would have preferred to have not been there. Did you see the video? He looked quite annoyed and uncomfortable at times.

Zippy the giver said...

Would have been better for him not to show up.
In fact, he should book more appearances and be a no-show a bunch of times. THAT would be funny. He needs to show more backbone than bowing to pressure from "the idiocracy". If he can't or won't see beyond the ploy he should not be the future leader, being stuck in the past.

Aaron said...

"If he can't or won't see beyond the ploy he should not be the future leader, being stuck in the past."

He does.

It's not that simple Zip. A.C. intends to represent and serve all constituents including a large group that kept Herenton in office.

If you can maintain your cool as you are interviewed by a fool, then you've scored some big points in my book. He did. I don't like calling anyone fools, but after seeing that interview I could find no other appropriate word to describe the interviewer.

Sadly, in this town Thad can not be ignored otherwise A.C would have declined. You do what you have to do and make the best of it.

Zippy the giver said...

I don't think he sees beyond now to a collaborative future clearly enoughand if he has he hasn't communicated it well enough to be believable by me.
AC has nothing to say to sway Herenton's supporters that Listen to THUD. If he sees beyond the atmosphere around today, he'd have to be lying to them and I bet they get that.
Also as a parent faced with having to put my kids in a zoned MCS school that is NOT a school I would ever choose to put any child in and both mayors complicity in the situation with MCS, I believe he is as culpable for this situation as the rest of the incumbents.
I'd rather see someone that I know will be a fierce proponent of the law abiding non-racist citizens of this city and a fierce facilitator of reform and that is NOT AC Wharton. He could have done that from his other bully pulpit.
Myron Lowery seems to have gotten more done from city council in a few years than all of the mayors of Memphis and Shelby county have in 50 years.
That's where I'm casting my vote, that's where everyone of conscience will cast there vote, no matter how many veiled racists, pimps, ninja turtle look-alikes, vote splitters or criminals run, that's who's next and who will be voted next no matter what.
Don't believe it? Hide in the shrubs and watch.
I believe Willy should stop running especially on the racist ticket he always usues, that's very telling he doesn't have any use for the citizens of Memphis. Anyone who would pander to those sentiments is a fake and a crook.

Aaron said...

Can one empathize and not pander? A tight wire act-yes.

Zippy the giver said...

Yes it is.
Now Willy trying to keep his pension, If he goes to trial and the money he's screwed up is more than his pension, will he pay it back? How much is he paying Janice (in favors not to get prosecuted) for her sympathy vote?
WHO is paying city council to turn a blind eye to her drunken attendance , as documented on TV reports, not boot her off council for the malfeasance showing up too drunk and medicated to cast an intelligent vote?
We don't need to know how a drug head or drunk would vote on any issues.
City Council,
You DO have a case of malfeasance (drunk in council meetings) and you better exercise it!
WHO do you work for?
WHO elected you?
Not whoever is telling you not to uphold the rules or turn a blind eye.
I guarantee you if you think that losing 16,000 people is bad, you haven't seen anything yet. People will vote with their feet and empty this place out. They've already started.
Memphians are tired of insane people running their city into the ground and tired of elected officials that aren't insane letting them

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