City officials look to Memphis, shipping giants for economic development ideas
A contingent of Anchorage leaders was due to visit the headquarters of cargo giants FedEx and United Parcel Service this month as part of a tutorial in economic development.
The Jan. 15-21 trip features tours of FedEx facilities in Memphis, Tenn., and UPS facilities in Louisville, Ky.
The group also was expected to meet with city officials and airport managers there to learn how they promote their facilities to prospective and existing businesses.
Members of the group were to include Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch, Anchorage Economic Development Corp. President Larry Crawford, Bob Poe, executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and Rick Morrison, president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.
The two communities have been successful in economic development, said Crawford, who aims to discover the steps the cities have taken in building their economies.
"We’d like to see how Anchorage stacks up," he said before the trip. "It’s an opportunity to learn a lot about both communities and how they have been successful. Economic development is a total community effort, and what I’ve seen from Memphis has been a total community effort."
Although Anchorage differs from Louisville and Memphis, the three cities serve as hubs for cargo operations including FedEx and UPS.
In November speakers from Memphis addressed the World Trade Center Alaska annual conference, describing how city officials reworked its economic destiny.
Keynote speakers were Phil Johnson, Memphis Chamber of Commerce director of international development, and Dorothy Chriswell, FedEx Memphis senior trade adviser for global regulatory information services.
Memphis has made long, purposeful strides toward building its economy.
In the late 1970s the Tennessee city was floundering with a struggling downtown district and high unemployment, Johnson said. The governor held a conference to study the city’s assets, which include cotton and hardwood lumber exports.
"As a result of the conference we billed ourselves as mid-America’s distribution center," Johnson said.
Twenty years later the city shows the fruit of officials’ labors. Interstates 55 and 40 intersect in Memphis, carrying 62 percent of the nation’s truck traffic. The area hosts several distribution centers totaling 300,000 square feet or more for companies that include Disney, General Motors and Brother, Johnson said. Nike has a distribution center totaling more than 1 million square feet. About 200 truck terminals are located in Memphis providing direct service to 48 states, Canada and Mexico. Also, logistics is a major business in Memphis, employing more than 110,000 people or 20 percent of the work force and including 30,000 employees from leading employer FedEx.
In 1994 Anchorage’s mayor Rick Mystrom toured FedEx facilities.
Although the Municipality of Anchorage doesn’t create business, "that doesn’t mean I can’t be a salesman" for the city, Wuerch said. He advocates that the city create a climate for prospective businesses to locate here.
The Alaskans will spend a day and a half each at UPS and FedEx, touring facilities at busy times in the middle of the night, he said.
Wuerch also planned to meet with airport managers as well as other company officials to learn about firms that work near airport grounds and support the cargo industry.
Wuerch aims to spur the Anchorage economy by "delivering government services efficiently and cheaper, and creating a quality of life current citizens may want and prospective citizens may want," he said.
One company currently is looking at coming to Anchorage, but lacks financing, he said.
According to the mayor, city officials would work with prospective companies looking at moving to Anchorage by walking them through the permitting process and asking the Anchorage Assembly for tax incentives.
Infrastructure improvement is another way the city can spur the economy, Wuerch said Jan. 10 at the AEDC economic forecast luncheon. He proposed building a road across the hillside site of the old Alaska Native Medical Center, extending the Ingra-Gambell roadway to First Avenue. The move is an effort to improve access to the port for the trucking industry, he said.
A bond package for the $6 million to $9 million project could come before voters in April and work could start this summer, he said.