Behind the Headlines – October 19, 2018

Behind the Headlines – October 19, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind The Headlines
is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Tonight, on Behind the
Headlines, an interview we recorded three weeks ago,
with senior members of the staff of The Greater Memphis Chamber. We recorded this show the
morning before Phil Trenary, the CEO of the Chamber
was tragically killed. We’re airing the episode now to honor the legacy
of Phil’s work. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, President
and Executive Editor of The Daily Memphian. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by three
members of the senior staff from the Memphis
Chamber of Commerce. Start with Eric Miller, Senior Vice President
for Economic Development. Thanks for being here. – My pleasure.
Thank you for having me. – David McKinney
is Senior Vice President for Public Policy. Thanks for being here. – Thank you for having us. – Ernest Strickland is a
Senior Vice President, also, for Workforce Development.
Thank you for being here. – Thank you for having me. – And Bill Dries is reporter
with The Daily Memphian. I’ll start with Ernest. You’re the wise old
man of this group ’cause you didn’t
just join the Chamber. These other two men have
just joined very recently. For each of you, though, I’ll have the same
question to start. With the Memphis
Chamber right now, economic development
is a huge issue in terms of the city
role, the county role. There’s a lot
going on in Memphis and a lot of people wanting a
lot more to go on in Memphis. You handle workforce
development for the Chamber. Talk about your number one or number one, two, and
three goals for workforce within the realm
that you can control. – So, workforce development
is one of the leading factors when companies decide
whether or not they’re going to relocate or expand. From the Chamber’s
standpoint, we view workforce as a way for us to
engage with our companies to find out what their
primary needs are, what their demands are, and
translate that information to our workforce partners so that they can
train individuals, find individuals that
can fit those needs, and have a healthy,
happy Memphis workforce. – There are a lot of questions
and we’ll talk about this from a bunch of points of view. But when you’re talking
about workforce people, you’ve heard city
council people, other sort of advocates
saying, ya know, candidates for Mayor
in the last cycle, that we, Memphis, they will say, don’t need more low wage
jobs, more distribution jobs. You hear other people, and
we’ve had them on the show, commercial real estate
people and so on, saying, look, those are still jobs and those are the
companies that are coming. How do you balance that in
terms of a prepared workforce? Everyone wants the
highest paying jobs, the high tech jobs and so
on, but sometimes the company that’s looking to come to
Memphis is a lower wage, lower skill job. How do you balance that? – Well, we look to
recruit good playing jobs and we look to upscale
our individuals so that they can have
marketability to be able to land in those
good paying jobs. Industry will find the market that is conducive for that
company being successful. We market ourselves
to those companies that are able to come in and
build and find individuals that can go to work. And so, we balance it with,
really, just looking at what our skill sets
are as a community, how attractive we are, and if
we want to attract industries that are not here. What do we need to do to be
in position to be attractive for those industries? – Good, Eric Miller,
Senior Vice President for Economic Development,
and you are less than a month into the job. – (Eric Miller)
Correct. – Coming from Virginia. – (Eric Miller)
Correct. – So you have a
different perspective. You have a perspective
of maybe other markets. There is so much debate here and sometimes I think
people think it’s a debate that only happens here
about what is the right way to recruit businesses
to Memphis. What is the role of incentives? What’s your perspective? Again, coming from the outside and how other markets handle it and what you saw in Memphis
as you looked at the job and then took the job. – Again, thank
you for having me. I think the right approach,
certainly my perspective that’s been shaped over
17 years in this business doing economic development
at the state, regional, and local level in
four different states, as the most successful
programs in the cities and communities that
have been most successful in both their job attraction
investment promotion piece as well as the
existing industry piece where, by the way,
existing industries is where most
communities experience their most significant increase
in both capital investment and job creation. So it’s very important that
we create an environment that nurtures our
existing industry base. Because that’s where most
of the new job creation can capital investment
is catalyzed and, quite frankly,
existing industries serve as our best salespersons
to new companies when they’re evaluating
this market for whether or not they want to come here. So, I just want to add that in. – (Eric Barnes)
Yeah, absolutely. – But, in the press, ya know, articles about me have referred to my approach
being data driven. In simplistic terms, what
that means is communities have to play to their
strengths in a way that you can empirically evidence
and use those data points to create a value proposition
that companies understand when you go speak
to the companies or when you go speak to
site location consultants, making a case for Memphis
being the location for their company. So it’s not anecdotal. It’s why the workforce could
work for a particular company that needs a certain
abundance of skill, level of skill, and sustainable
pipeline of that skill. It demonstrates to the company
that from a cost standpoint the various factors
that they will evaluate including labor cost,
operating cost, ongoing cost, are competitive with other
markets in the country. So that’s really the proposition that you’re putting
in front of companies, relative to whatever
your competition is for whatever that
opportunity is. – Alright, and we’ll come back
to a bunch of those points and kinda break them down, but let me get David
McKinney involved. You are from Memphis
but new to the Chamber. – (David) I am.
– And a public policy job. – (David)
Yes. – So that means
working with, I think, working with local
bodies, city, county, and so on, government. – (David)
Yes. – But also advocating at
the State Legislature. – State and federal level. – (Eric Barnes)
State and federal level. – So with public policy,
our focus is going to be advocating
for those policies that further strengthen
economic growth, development, and competativeness
here in our community, Memphis and Shelby County. And really from a broader sense, we look at economic
development and the ecosystem so not only recruiting
and retaining jobs, which has gotten
a lot of credit, growing our existing
businesses, small businesses, and even further with
respect to education, workforce development
which is paramount here, transit, transportation,
and so many other things when we talk about
economic development. And even policies. We’re talking about
public policies, laws, regulations, ordinances. So many things go into
that discussion as well. I would imagine that we’ll
spend most of the time with respect to the
public policy team, focusing on local issues
and then state and federal. Really you look our sphere
of influence in that regard, I think we’ve got
tremendous opportunities to address some of the local
policies, public policies that we have here and
then at the state level and, I guess if I
put it a priority as far as our influence there, we’ll be at the federal level. – Okay. Bill? – Eric, you’re also part
of a city ad hoc committee that is looking at our
economic development framework and a lot of
discussion about EDGE, as well as the greater
Memphis Chamber, in all of this and
the relationship between those two entities. Where do you see that
we’re going forward? You all have had two meetings
and you’re still, kinda, trying to wrap your head
around a lot of concepts that are out there. – And so, you’re correct, that
process is still evolving. Ultimately where I see it going is a consolidated process entity that’s more solution oriented
and customer friendly and creates the right
persona for Memphis in the marketplace of
companies looking to relocate in Memphis and Shelby County. The ultimate goal of that
committee is to make Memphis and Shelby County,
this entire community, perceived more favorably in
the eyes of decision makers when they’re contemplating
locating their operations here. Quite frankly, in terms
of EDGE and it’s processes, that’s just simply not
the case right now. So the onus is on us as
stewards of the best interests of this community to
improve that process so that we improve our chances
of creating well paying jobs and a future vision for
the citizens in this area. And so, in the big picture,
that’s what I ultimately think that’s where we’re
going with that. What the outcome is
yet to be determined. – Right. And when you talk
about consolidation, one of the examples that came
up at this week’s meeting of the group was what’s
happening in Charlotte. Where their Chamber of Commerce has effectively consolidated
with what they call the Regional Authority there which is roughly their
equivalent of our EDGE. – That’s not. – (Bill)
Okay. – So, I’m originally
from South Carolina. – (Bill)
Okay. – Worked at a
Department of Commerce in the early parts of my career. It’s how I got in this business. And so I worked for the
Charlotte Regional Partnership for a number of years. Still very good friends
with it’s current CEO and I know several
members on the Board. In fact, lived in
Charlotte at some point. So, the parallel couldn’t
be more different between EDGE and the Charlotte
Regional Partnership and I’ll just outline
a couple of ways. One, the Charlotte
Regional Partnership is a regional partnership and it’s a public private entity that represents 16 counties
and has a bi-state cover. So the Charlotte Regional
Partnership works with counties in South Carolina as well
as in that Charlotte region. Secondly is it’s publicly funded
but also privately funded. Third, it’s CEO
reports to a board and not to mayors or any sort
of head of any government, municipal or county government. And the fourth point is it
doesn’t have any authority to levy, promulgate, negotiate, or make any sort of
binding representations as it relates to incentives. So it couldn’t be more
different than EDGE. – (Bill)
Okay. – In essence, it’s
really a lead generation marketing entity
for that region. The municipalities and
the counties, well, contribute based on a per
capita form, I think it is, and then the business
sector, also, contributes to the funding
of that organization. It’s not nearly as
robust as it once was because the state
of North Carolina, the policy makers
made a decision to privatize
economic development and created a
completely private firm that’s not only
funded by the state but also funded by
private sector companies in North Carolina. Which, in turn,
tapped the resources for the Charlotte
Regional Partnership because the Partnership
and the Chamber and now the state-wide
entity all call on the same big corporate benefactors
to help fund operations. So that’s some of the impetus
for the consolidation you see as well as the blurring
of lines in the mission for the Charlotte Chamber
which is centrally focused on just Charlotte
and the mission of the Charlotte
Region’s Chamber which is to serve a region. So they really, functionally
couldn’t be more different. – Okay. So, is there something
in that model that could be applied here? That should be applied here? – Yeah, a recognition
that the murkiness of the message from that area
doesn’t serve the interest of what they’re
trying to achieve. And that’s economic
prosperity for the region and the citizens
that reside in it. – Okay. Ernest, in terms of
workforce development, this has been a long
discussion that we’ve had. Probably grew more
intense when Mitsubishi and Electrolux came here
and some other entities, or corporations, that came here. Where do you think we are in
terms of workforce development? We’ve obviously
recognized the problem but are we making
progress on that? – You mentioned problem and
nationally we have a skills gap. As a country we decided
that we were going to not train vocationally
as we had in years prior. We were more on a every
child college bound type of system and so that
today produces itself as skills gaps in local
communities such as Memphis. We have recognized that and
we see that there’s a pivot from our Shelby County school
system, our municipal systems, they’re all moving more
towards those career and technical training. That is something that
we’re going to benefit from in the near future.
Now, we’re seeing our local workforce investment network
be more sensitvie to getting individual training grants so
that they can upscale themselves and
be more marketable. That helps the individual
achieve those high paying jobs and it helps us as a community
showcase two companies that are looking here
and looking to expand that we’re on top of finding and supporting a
quality workforce. I’m excited about the
direction that we’re going. Eric mentioned and you
mentioned consolidation. We’re seeing some
alignment take place within the workforce space. Alignment that’s needed. For instance, you
have the Chamber, our goal is to be the leading
entity and national benchmark for workforce development. We want other communities
to see what we’re doing and model from us. That is primarily
why I’m in this role. The Chamber decided
to elevate workforce from previous years and
now we’re moving forward with conversations with
other organizations that have workforce
activities and we’re saying, hey, how can we work together, how can we define clear lanes. Obviously, the Chamber
has huge benefit and close connection
to companies. Well, who has that close
connection to the job seekers? How can we support
those organizations? Who’s focused on
developing the pipeline and making sure that
what is being taught is leading towards what’s
in demand from industries? And so I’m excited about
the direction we’re talking. There’s new leadership in place. I think it’s focused
on making sure that workforce is a priority. And so if Memphis was a
publicly traded company, I would buy all the stock
that we could afford. [chuckling] – (Bill)
Alright. – (Eric Miller)
I’ll get in on that. [laughs] – And David, I was at
a town hall meeting that several city
council members had in Hickory Hill a
week or two ago now. And you talked about
our approach in terms of public policy and
basically economic development in something where business
should lead in that regard. As opposed to the
elected officials who are obviously a part of it. – (David)
Correct. – But, you feel like this is
something for business to lead. – Yeah, and that town
hall was in Hickory Hill, hosted by a councilwoman,
Patrice Robinson, back in my old stomping grounds. I was a graduate of
Wooddale High School there. And public policy,
if you look about it, very definition in, with
the respect to the Chamber and just in general, it lends
itself to collaboration. There has to be a
collaborative environment between government
and business community and the Chamber being
the leading voice for the business community. And with respect
to job creation, the business community
is a leading vehicle in creating those jobs. With respect to the government, the government creates
the environment for which those
jobs can be created. You can’t have one,
necessarily, without the other and I think that’s really
a key point of distinction. Especially when we start
talking about our ability to be competitive. The thing about it
is good public policy should necessarily make
us more competitive and the fact that policy
and being competitive are not mutually
exclusive propositions. – What does it mean, then, from
a government point of view, state, local level, to be
quote business friendly? And what are those impediments when companies are coming in
or a company that exists here, as Eric was pointing out,
that wants to expand? – So I’ll give you a
couple of examples. One example to be
business friendly, and I look at it in
a more global sense, is much of the state effort that we’ve done to really
bolster our stake hold in education which
certainly goes right in hand with the work that Ernest
Strickland is doing in workforce development
with our Drive to 55, with our ability to send young
people and adults to college, community colleges, TCATs,
to better prepare them, to align them with
the type of skills that they need to be
competitive in this workforce. So that’s one thing,
certainly, at the state level. Another thing is something
that we talk about a lot is adding additional
resources and tool box that will take the
community resurgence, tax credits, something
that we’re likely going to be working on. We’re in the process
of finalizing our state legislative
agenda but something that we’ll be looking at. And that’s something that’s
going to be geared to creating jobs in historically
disinvested communities. We have a lot of
those in Memphis. We want to make sure that
we have all the resources that we can from the state
level and at the local level to make sure that we can
land those good paying jobs and create those good
paying jobs in those areas. That’s just two policy examples. – Eric, from your
point of view, again, just taking advantage of
your outside perspective being new to Memphis,
the incentive game that gets so much criticism and so much discussion
among politicians, citizens, business leaders, are
there communities out there that don’t rely heavily
on tax incentives in terms of retaining
and recruiting business? – Not in my experience, no. And I understand the angst about incentives
in some respects. I think the incentive
discussion is weighted far too heavily in terms of what the gestation
period for projects. A great incentive never
made a bad site good. Never, you know, didn’t
instantly create a workforce where there was
none or a workforce that had the requisite
skill set such that it wouldn’t have
an adverse impact on the timeline for a
company to get in operation. But incentive are, if
you want to call them, for those who consider them
the bane of our existence, they’re a necessary bane. They isn’t a single
community in this country that’s going to be a catalyst
for a paradigm shift in the way that economic development
is practiced right now in the retention or
attraction space. And that very much includes
the utilization of incentives. The fact of the matter is, if
you don’t utilize incentives as a comprehensive
approach to recruiting and retaining industries,
other communities will and so you will have
effectively just taken yourself out of the game, i.e.
will not be competitive for opportunities. – And when you were
talking earlier about the Charlotte and
the crossing of borders in North and South Carolina,
I couldn’t help but think about Memphis relative
to Mississippi and to DeSoto County and
other counties in Mississippi, Marshall County, that
have done a great job of getting businesses to
locate there and in some cases, to locate across the
border from Memphis. But then to take advantage
of, say, the Memphis airport, the Grizzlies, the amenities
of a big city north of their border when they
have a different sort of tax incentive structure
and some would argue, lower taxes. How do you, when you
looked at Memphis and decided to take the
job, how do you look at that competition
with DeSoto County and then when you have
commercial real estate people who’ve been on the show and
talked about it who have said, look, we market the region. Wherever that
distribution center lands, it’s still jobs for the region. They are less concerned about
the issue of the border. – (Eric Miller)
And so are companies who look at our region.
The only folks who see these borders, it’s all
internal to the market. Companies couldn’t care less. For them, it’s where
is the best site, where can they draw the
labor from, and, you know, people drive back and
forth across to your point, the labor share. This population drives back
and forth across the borders for job opportunities every day. So I embrace regionalism. I was steeped in it for
all of my profession so I believe in regionalism. In my opinion, it
enhances our ability to be competitive
for opportunities. It broadens our opportunities. And so, they’re examples of
cross border cooperations from a marketing and lead
generation standpoint, the Charlotte Regional
Partnership is one example. Another example
exists in Kansas City. So there are ways to do that through intergovernmental
operating agreements that are used between
entities such that, let’s just say for
example, we collaborate with a cross border community
to co-develop a site and agree to share
tax revenues generated from that site between
those two communities. That’s a win-win
situation in my mind. – (Eric Barnes)
Yeah. Okay. A few minutes left. Bill. – Alright, and Ernest, there
has been quite a discussion about for-profit schools that
could provide job training versus the training and
associate degrees that are offered by our community
colleges in the state. And from the governor’s race, I remember Andy Boyd saying
this in the Republican Primary, that the ratio of students
who attend community colleges and those that attend the
for-profit schools is a majority of students attending
the community colleges in every part of the
state except for Memphis where it’s kind of
reversed in that regard. Is that something
that concerns you or is that just the
way that students pick where they want to
go in this market? – Well, we want
there to be schools that are excellent
at what they teach. We want those training
opportunities to be customized to industry needs. It creates some competition. Competition can be good. We see our local,
Southwest, for instance, they have really
stepped up their game. They hired and individual
from the Chamber which created some
forced alignment. We’re seeing private
schools like Moore Tech be more creative with the
automotive training program that they’ve put in place
because of the demand that is in this
particular market. So we support both
entities moving forward with excellent programs. – Does career and technical
education, does it have what some have
called a stigma to it or should it be
regarded differently than maybe we’ve regarded
it the last decade or so? – Yeah, it should. It should be promoted as
here’s a way to advance in life through great,
high paying jobs so that you can have an
opportunity for yourselves and your families. We don’t have to promote
it as the old factory jobs of the past. If you go into one of these
manufacturing plants today, it’s very high tech. Coming up October 5th, we have
National Manufacturing Day. We’re gonna take 15 high
schools into local plants and facilities so
that they can see what today’s automated
manufacturing looks like and learn more about
how they can gain skills and matriculate
into those careers. – Eric, how much to you
hear in your experience about workforce development
when a client comes in or a site consultant comes in? – So, great question. Two weeks ago, I
met a site selector, there’s an organization called
a Site Selector’s Guild, it’s comprised of some of the preeminent site
selection consultants globally. They held their fall
conference in Greenville, South Carolina, which
happens to be the epicenter of foreign and domestic
investment in this country. Well, South Carolina’s
just blowin’ it up. But, my reach in that
sector is both broad and deep just given the fact
that I’ve been in this business for a while. First, three site
selectors who also happen to be friends of mine
whose paths I crossed, not collectively,
all individually, they all said the same thing. “Congratulations on
a new opportunity. “Whatchu gonna do
about your workforce? “What are you gonna do about
your process, i.e. EDGE, “and what are you gonna
do about the paucity of available green field
sites and buildings?” That’s what they all say. – Green field sites and
buildings, what does that mean? Very briefly. – So, yes, development
ready sites, these are sites or it has been design
engineered, schedule, and funding source
in place such as you can give some
certainty to a company as to when it will
be ready relative to their timeline for
being in operation. And available buildings
are both industrial and office space. Yeah, more industrial
space than office space, quite frankly, but
they ask about both. – And does that
counter to things like the Firestone site and
some of the brown field sites that Memphis would like
to redevelop and market? – And so I think that’s an
interesting opportunity. The ability to demonstrate a
solution oriented mentality and taking existing properties
and redeveloping them for adaptive reuse
makes a lot of sense and has a lot of cache in
the industry right now. – Alright. – (David)
And that’s one of the policies that we’re working on right
now at the state level. – Alright. Well, that is all
the time we have. Join us again next week. And thanks. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar music]

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