60 Seconds with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr.
CHARGING INTO AN ELECTRIC FUTURE
A new era has dawned on U.S. streets. With the arrival of two all-electric vehicles, Chevy’s Volt and Nissan’s Leaf, the long-awaited conversion from fossil-fueled cars has begun in earnest.
Industry analysts predict as many as two million electric cars on the road in the U.S. by 2013. But the Volt comes with a hefty $40,000 sticker and only a handful of locations in the country have installed charging stations.
News from the oil capital of the universe should be enough to quiet skeptics: Starting this month, 150 charging stations for electric cars are now available to motorists in Houston, TX. The units were installed by NRG Energy. The public stations have been located at stores including Walgreens, Best Buy and HEB. NRG is offering three monthly plans, topping off at $89 to cover the electricity costs for charging both at home and at the public stations. Other companies are offering home charging units for a flat price of $2,000; it will cost about $1.50 to fully charge a vehicle, or roughly half the cost of a gallon of gas.
OPEC was not available for comment.
Memphis, TN and Shelby County are merging several agencies into an Economic Development and Growth Engine (EDGE). We asked Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. to explain the consolidation.
BF: How will EDGE help the region attract new businesses and industrial projects?
ACW: Our present system of economic development is chopped up among half a dozen or more agencies. In other words, it’s no system at all. Each of these entities is pursuing job growth and capital investment, but they’re not executing any kind of cohesive plan. Prospective employers or job-creators who want to come into our region have to navigate a complex web of bureaucracies. Bringing all these disconnected pieces together and making sure everybody is pursuing the same plan of attack just makes everything simpler—and therefore, more attractive to businesses.
BF: Does the regional approach offered by EDGE maximize the opportunity to leverage the assets of the city and the county?
ACW: Absolutely. The first item of business for the EDGE is to create a strategic plan that will summarize all of Memphis’ and Shelby County’s assets, and then start setting targets for companies that we want to bring to town. We’ve got an incredibly deep, talented workforce. We’ve got
great infrastructure in rail and roadways. Our airport has some of the strongest cargo capacity on the planet. There is no reason that we shouldn’t be regarded as one of the most attractive places in the country to start, grow, or relocate a business. EDGE will make this one of the easiest places in the world to do so, but that process starts with strategically marketing our assets.
BF: Will EDGE focus on expanding established industries, or will emerging growth sectors be targeted?
ACW: EDGE will do whatever it can to support growth in every sector in every way possible—including if that means simply staying out of the
way! The Memphis Bioworks Foundation is doing an incredible job expanding our life sciences industries. We are and will always be a regional powerhouse for healthcare. In the years ahead we’re going to see explosive growth in cancer research, medical device manufacturing, and other high-skill, high-tech sectors. EDGE will be a great partner to build on these accomplishments and accelerate future growth.
BF: How will EDGE provide new levels of support to start-up companies and small- and medium-sized businesses?
ACW: This is one of the EDGE’s most exciting focus areas, one that will have an immediate effect on our economy. The real net job growth that new small businesses provide is going to be absolutely crucial. We can provide access to capital, to federal programs, and to other resources that will get more people to create more companies, expand on their successes, and leverage even more investments. Small revolving loan funds also are envisioned to assist companies with expansion financing and to jump-start entrepreneurs in sectors with high growth potential. These programs will be housed in the EDGE’s new Memphis/Shelby County Economic Development Finance Corporation, overseen by an ombudsman whose sole focus will be the growth of locally-owned small- and mid-sized businesses.