The ceremonial grand opening last week of the expansive new Electrolux plant on President's Island drew a distinguished group of celebrants, including company CEO Jack Truong, Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell, state Senate majority leader Mark Norris, and Governor Bill Haslam. They toasted the ghost of Christmas Future and predicted great things from the plant, which has been in operation already for four months, producing an array of state-of-the-art appliances.
Luttrell had another opportunity during the week to reference the plant. Delivering a version of his annual state-of-the-county message to Memphis Kiwanians at the University Club, Luttrell turned the coin and delivered a cautionary word from the underside.
The mayor emphasized the importance of education at large to issues like public safety and job creation, and said further economic development of the sort represented by Electrolux and Mitsubishi, the appliance behemoth's near neighbor on President's Island, depend on a constant upgrading of the community's work force, particularly in the technological fields. As Luttrell noted, it is no secret that such development has been hindered by the inability of various interested industries to find people to step into the jobs that they already have — not to mention those that they might choose to offer to an appropriately skilled workforce. Luttrell hailed the willingness of Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson to "partner" with businesses in trying to upgrade basic skills.
Such educational bootstrapping is further dictated by the fact that PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) and other such discounting industrial incentives resorted to by local government are inherently subject to a law of diminishing returns. The general public infrastructure, which is or ought to be part of the bait for new industry, is increasingly in need of rehab — in large part because the public money to keep it in good repair is in scarce supply. To appropriate an old chestnut from the lay world, it takes money to make money.
More promisingly, large-scale development projects such as the recent completion of state Highway 385, linking Northwest Shelby County to Collierville and other points southeast, cannot help but spur economic activity. Further good news was the Tennessee Department of Transportation recently awarding a $109.3 million contract to finally finish the I-40/240 interchange in East Memphis. This project, which has a projected completion date four years hence, is a complement to TDOT's ongoing widening project on the leg of I-240 stretching from Poplar to Walnut Grove.
Things are happening in our neck of the woods, but much remains to be done. It takes money, and muscle, and mind. All of that is where the commitment to educational partnering spoken of by Luttrell comes in.