We're all for economic outreach on behalf of Memphis and Shelby County and generally approve the thinking behind the newly formed Economic Development and Growth Engine (EDGE) umbrella, devised jointly by city and county administrations. Our metropolitan area is in a state best described by Arnold Schwarzenegger, back when he was a bodybuilder and daily flogging his muscles to get them up to a competitive level. "They had to grow just in order to survive," said the then Mr. Olympia and now former California governor.
Well, that pretty much says it about our city and county — both of which are now concerned about population loss, income stagnation, and the other ills of a stagnant economy. We, too, have to grow in order to survive. So the cooperation between Memphis mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell in forming EDGE has been the single most impressive and far-reaching manifestation of inter-governmental cooperation in these parts, as well as of the much-touted idea of "functional consolidation."
But local advocates for EDGE, including the two mayors, have made a huge point of keeping their cards close to the vest on the score of public awareness. That means keeping elected members of the City Council or County Commission ("politicians," if you're making the case against them) out of direct policy-making or supervisory roles on the EDGE board, and it means keeping certain key aspects of negotiations with target industries away from the media. To be sure, most details of a recruitment package ultimately become known both to the members of the two local legislatures as well as to the media, but on an ex post facto basis, after the deals have been cut.
A case in point was the landing of the Electrolux plant for Memphis — or, technically, the lifting of one from Quebec, where the loss of some 1,200 jobs has been lamented simultaneous with the gaining of those jobs on this end. To land this bonanza, the city and county agreed to put up roughly $20 million each, and the state almost $100 million in start-up incentives. The company itself would supply another $40 to $50 million.
A necessary investment by government? Very likely. But little to no information was publicly disseminated in advance as the deal was being hatched. Maybe the hush-hush negotiations were necessary, as well — though a few members of the County Commission raised eyebrows.
Now we are told, via press release from the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, that an all-star cast of local luminaries involved in the nitty-gritty of industrial recruitment would be in New York this week to discuss the Memphis area's "plan and strategies" for marketing itself. With whom? Such august national publications as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, FastCompany, and Business Facilities, we are told.
All well and good, we say. We just wonder why the local media, which has been kept at a polite arm's length from such advance planning, has not also been given a chance to see said plans and strategies.