Our nation is celebrating Economic Development Week to remind us all what economic development really means: creating partnerships devoted to building healthy communities that are diversified and resilient enough to survive future economic and natural adversity.
Economic development means creating jobs, developing infrastructure, growing businesses and investing in the workforce – it’s about changing lives for the better. In Tennessee, economic development is a collaborative effort that includes an important partnership between the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), which serves western Tennessee and seven other states. Working together, in a partnership with Gov. Bill Haslam, both agencies demonstrate the effectiveness of a federal-state partnership on economic development efforts.
TNECD promotes a business-friendly environment and history of innovation, an approach that aligns with DRA’s strategic plan to improve workforce competitiveness, invest in infrastructure, and increase communities’ capacity to drive economic growth. Together, both agencies collaborate with regional planning and development districts, and communities to promote economic inclusion and economic security for all. We focus on innovation, skills training, and job creation and retention.
DRA serves 21 counties in western Tennessee, including Memphis and Shelby County, and works closely with TNECD to advocate partnerships with public and private investors to help create and retain jobs, invest in workforce training, and promote community revitalization.
In 2016, DRA partnered with public and private investors to make a total investment of more than $100 million in western Tennessee. The effort helped create and retain 2,300 jobs, and delivered modern water and sewer facilities to more than 2,000 families.
Partnership investments range from building a rail spur to support a business expansion in Humboldt to investing in the Mid-South Minority Business Continuum in Memphis to increase procurement opportunities for minority businesses, and supporting job training efforts by the Memphis Urban League Inc. Preparing for the future is a top priority.
DRA has helped eight counties to be certified as Work Ready Communities, a workforce development system that highlights workforce quality. It is an assurance that a community is committed to providing skilled workers to meet the specific needs of a business or industry.
Building and preparing a skilled workforce will be a primary economic driver for the region.
Efforts to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem across the Delta are paying dividends: a Memphis medical-device business won DRA’s Delta Showcase in competition with dozens of other entrepreneurs, and recently raised $725,000 in seed capital. DRA supported the business by providing technical expertise, mentorship, and access to investors.
Tennessee already has the most important ingredient for success: an ambitious, creative, hardworking labor force willing to train for 21st Century jobs. TNECD and DRA will continue to partner, ensuring that western Tennessee remains on a path to higher growth through investments in infrastructure, workforce training, and business development.
That’s what we do as economic development professionals: build communities, help create jobs, grow businesses and invest in the workforce.
Chris Masingill is chairman of the Delta Regional Authority.