For the past 12 years, I have been proud to write the City Journal column for Memphis magazine, where I was given the opportunity to write about politics, race, economic development, talent, and more.

Beginning with its the recent issue, I am now a contributor to Inside Memphis Business, a sister publication to Memphis magazine under the banner of Contemporary Media, which also publishes The Memphis Flyer and Memphis Parent 

The company – headed by CEO Kenneth Neill – has an outstanding team of professionals working on magazines, and I am looking forward to working with the editor of Inside Memphis Business, the renaissance man, Jon W. Sparks.

For my inaugural column, I focused on how discussions in Memphis often turn more on personalities than policies, using the current debate about the future of EDGE as an example.

Here’s the column:

It is often the case that important discussions on critical issues break down around personalities rather than policies, and we’ve seen it again with the recent debate about economic development in Memphis and Shelby County.

There were some who immediately sided with Richard Smith, who is chairman of the Greater Memphis Chamber and scion of the FedEx founder. Others promptly supported EDGE and its president/CEO Reid Dulberger. 

Many took sides before the discussion was seriously under way. 

Visionary downtown developer Henry Turley once wryly said: “In Memphis, we pay people a lot of money to tell us what we want to hear.” That’s why Smith, as head of the Chamber, was an unexpected person to shatter the normal veneer of positive spin to roll out suggestions for attracting higher value economic development targets to our community and to question the ROI for EDGE, the city-county agency that has eliminated local taxes of about $500 million over its seven-year existence as incentives for new and retained jobs.

The controversy over Smith’s suggestions arose because of a feeling that they had arrived fully formed and were developed by a small group, which seemed to contribute to the unforced error of a proposal to change minority business from a mandate to an inducement in the PILOT program, an idea quickly abandoned because of an immediate firestorm of criticism.

In the past 15 years, our community has launched multiple economic development plans; we’ve chased magic bullets and big projects; we have wrestled time and time again to get workforce development right; we have created a public entity, EDGE, that was supposed to accelerate and improve our economic results; and the Greater Memphis Chamber formed the Chairman’s Circle with much the same goal.   

Despite all this, for at least a decade, the regional economy has been underperforming when compared to peer cities that the Memphis region used to outpace on economic measurements that matter the most — jobs growth, GDP growth, income growth, and educational attainment.

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