In late November, I was privileged to be a part of a team from Memphis participating in a series of meetings in Paris.  Representatives from the Greater Memphis Chamber, FedEx, Memphis International Airport, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and me – representing Memphis Bioworks Foundation – met with various officials and representatives from Paris and the Charles de Gaulle Airport.

As a result of these meetings, it reinforced to me that the two recognized business development areas for our community – bioscience and distribution logistics – really come together in the Aerotropolis concept.  An Aerotropolis is a community with an airport as its economic hub, and with an annual economic impact of more than $28 billion Memphis International certainly fits that description.  de Gaulle airport in Paris is striving to be the Europe equivalent to Memphis International for North America.  Business leaders in Paris and at de Gaulle understand, much like we understand in Memphis, that the future of bioscience development is closely tied to access to aviation and its related logistics.  And, much of the growth in air distribution and logistics will come from companies and discoveries in the biosciences.

Real growth in the biosciences is dependent on the ability to build a product from local, to regional, to national and ultimately global access.  Whether on a research level, from an import/export perspective, or even from a personalized/just-in-time medicine perspective, access to international distribution will be essential.

No one can dispute that Memphis is already well ahead of any competition in North America for the distinction of being a true Aerotropolis.  In fact, Memphis International is the World’s leading cargo airport for 18 consecutive years.  FedEx has the world’s most advanced hub system operating here every day.  As I observed in these meetings, Larry Cox, president and CEO of Memphis International, is an internationally recognized leader in the aviation world. And, of course, FedEx is respected worldwide for its vision and leadership.  Memphis also benefits from its historic leadership in other forms of transportation, creating a unique positioning not just in air cargo (runway), but in rail, river and road distribution as well.

So, the opportunity is ours.  For us, a strong relationship with Paris is key, because from a distribution perspective, Paris is the access point to everything in Europe and holds the position as the 5th busiest cargo airport in the world.  To Paris, Memphis is the entry point to everything in North America.  And, by working together, we become a critical component to what is happening in the Asia access airport – Guangzhou, China – a growing force in cargo distribution in the world’s fastest growing economy.  By working together across three continents, we can bring our local businesses greater access to world markets than can be accomplished in any other communities on our respective continents.

It is a leadership position that, once established, will be nearly impossible to surpass. It is a leadership position that leads to real and sustainable high-value job growth.  That is what makes it all so critical.  We are about to enter the second decade of this century.  By the time that decade is complete; leadership in this area will have been decided.  Done right, Memphis will be the community being chased.  Done wrong and we will forever be lagging.

The fact that this kind of strategic meeting is taking place is a signal that we all understand the importance and we are collectively investing in our future.  From now on, since attending these meetings, whenever I hear the phrase Aerotropolis, I will think not just of an airport project, but of a collective initiative with the potential to touch everything I strive for in the biosciences as well.  I will think of the collective benefits to our community that growth in distribution, logistics, research, scientific discovery, orthopedics, medical training, AgBio, clean tech and many other areas will mean.

Together we can become a one-two punch like no other community – the Aerotropolis/Biotropolis.