Eric Miller

Eric Miller is the senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Memphis Chamber.

Guest column: A different vision for economic development

By Updated: October 17, 2018 11:43 AM CT | Published: September 26, 2018 11:44 AM CT

You have probably heard some public discourse around the use of code names for projects seeking incentive packages in our community.

Both publicly traded and privately held companies must be careful and cautious when considering relocation or expansion. In part, project code names are used to protect a company’s identity while they “shop around” for potential locations for expansion or relocation. It is well-established by industry standards that the fundamental use of code names is a best practice in communities across the country.

In our existing local practice, a public disclosure of the company seeking the tax abatement is provided to the media and to the general public five business days in advance of a vote taking place.

While this well-intentioned practice checks the box for eagerness and transparency, it can be the death knell to attracting the types of high paying jobs our citizens and government have demanded.  In fact, independent third-party research suggests that such a practice makes Memphis and Shelby County less competitive in attracting projects, as compared to peer markets.

When we look at the cities who have experienced significant growth in high-wage jobs – job growth that our citizens want and deserve – use of code names that exhibit deference to the company’s interests in confidentiality, is settled policy. It is clear that we have put ourselves at an unnecessary, but easily rectifiable, disadvantage with this policy.  My colleague, David McKinney, senior vice president of public policy for the Chamber, has said, “good public policy and economic competitiveness must not be viewed as a mutually exclusive proposition.  Instead, a sound public policy should ensure that Memphis and Shelby County is more competitive.”

The fact that we are having this conversation is actually positive because it means that there is interest from companies to locate in our market. If there wasn’t interest, we wouldn’t be having this public conversation. If there are no potential projects, it doesn’t matter if we allow for code names or not!  This should give us all a sense of optimism.

But companies are looking at Memphis, companies with jobs that align with the community’s priority of bringing high wage jobs to Memphis!

We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to position Memphis and Shelby County to compete for and ultimately win those jobs and investments.

Modifying our policy on code names, to optimize our market competitiveness, is a simple way to remove a barrier for companies to invest in Memphis. All pertinent information would still be provided such as number of jobs, level of investment, average salary/wage, taxes being abated, etc.   Only the company name would be kept confidential to respect the needs of the customer – whose business we are trying to attract – in order to put us on more equal footing with faster growing peer cities.

This is just one step. There is plenty more opportunity to improve our competitiveness. Let’s start by solving the self-inflicted, easy-to-address problems that unnecessarily keep us from being competitive.


Economic Development Greater Memphis Chamber

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