"One size doesn't fit all" when it comes to economic development.
That's the word Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Who are holding discussions with International Paper about a potential incentives package to keep the company in Memphis.
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Some might label it corporate blackmail. Some say it's just the price of doing business in a tough economy. But, whatever you label the effort to keep the International Paper company from putting Memphis in its rearview mirror, you can be assured both the city and county mayors are working to stay in front of the exit doors.
Based on their recent track record, Mayors Wharton and Luttrell are quite versed in negotiating the playing fields of international economic development in bringing new businesses to Memphis and Shelby County. But, as we heard last week, Commissioner Mike Ritz has his doubts as to whether the duo can play defense in keeping giant international paper company from being lured away.
"I think, frankly, it goes to the fact that they both are naive on this subject," Commissioner Ritz said. "They have no real private sector experience."
"We spend a tremendous amount of time in economic development retaining companies as we do recruiting companies," Mayor Luttrell said.
Ritz's assessment of their skills aside, Wharton and Luttrell confirmed on Thursday while they are talking with International Paper executives about a potential incentives package, their efforts have drawn an initial pledge of support from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
"He has used his office to work with some other state officials who will have to get involved with this transaction as it goes forward," Wharton said. "So, the answer is, yes, we have gotten help from the state."
But, while the mayoral duo remains mum about specifics with an incentives package, Commissioner Ritz told FOX13 News the price to keep the company headquarters and its 2,000 jobs in town include a 30-year tax abatement. Such an offer would require passage of resolutions by the commission and the city council raising the current pilot program from a 20-year limit.
It would also remove the precedent that existing properties don't get tax breaks. But, in making any special deal with IP, the mayors are confident it won't open the floodgates for other Memphis-based companies to follow along the same path.
"It's not a cookie-cutter process," Mayor Luttrell said. "We know that in this particular case International Paper is a Fortune 500 company. They bring a lot to our community and that's something we value and we have to consider."
"The courts have made it clear that when it comes to areas like this that there's no such thing as well ... if you do it for one you have to do it for all," Mayor Wharton added. "The citizens of Memphis and Shelby County have to come out with a profit on it. That's the ultimate test."