Rather than selling themselves at a discount — cheap land and cheap labor and  tax giveaways – most highly successful cities are investing in better workers,  high-quality universities, quality of life and efficient public services.

Here’s our start on economic development priorities for the planned plan for Memphis and Shelby:

Investments in Universities. Universities are seedbeds for  the innovation economy.  Cities with research universities have a head start in  this economy, because they create the innovation and the intellectual capital  needed today. At the exact time when universities are crucial to success, state  government is slashing budgets of higher education, and we must start thinking  now about what we will do to elevate and improve our universities, particularly University of Memphis, the source of most of our college-educated talent.

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. If  incentives should be given to anybody, it should be for the redevelopment of our  neighborhoods, which are, after all, the backbone of our city’s health.

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 encourage maximum  flexibility for the use of these federal funds.

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.

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, authentic answers produced organically from a reservoir of innovation  and creativity that is embedded in Memphis.

Understanding Our Competitive Context. Memphis starts by  understanding its competitive context, including market and demographic trends  in the region and its strengths and weaknesses. Most of all, we need to use new  measures that matter in the knowledge economy rather than on the indicators from  old-style economic development. Memphis can find its distinctive niche to leap  frog ahead of other cities, but it must be equally based on solid research and  imaginative strategies.

Fixing the Basics. Local government needs to concentrate  on fixing the basics, such as safety, public services, land use, infrastructure  and schools. Governments must look for ways to streamline their structure and  improve public services. A foundation of efficient, effective public services is  what successful economic growth is built on.

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 “we versus them” and “if you’re  winning, we must be losing” attitudes. 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 Memphis shouldn’t be the only city in the region saying this.

Vibrant Culture and Entertainment Centers. To compete,  Memphis must be an attractive, dynamic place. Vibrant arts and culture 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  distinctive culture as tourist amenities, but in truth, its value can be much  broader since mining this special quality of life can be a chief determinant in  workforce growth.

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. Most of all, we  must rid the halls of government with their “it’s not your time yet” responses  to any initiative shown by young leaders.

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, they 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.

High-Quality Eco-Assets. 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. Most of all,  neighborhood parks must be treated as the heart and soul of our green  assets.

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  also become known for their low levels of economic growth.

Part Four of a series about economic development.