An Aerotroplis for the Bioscience Community

The July issue of Fast Company magazine features an article on the rise of the aerotropolis. As they define it, an aerotropolis is a community that grows or in some cases is created with an airport as its economic engine.

In Asia, there are about six communities (perhaps it is better to call them major cities and potential major cities) being designed around the concept that air service leadership will be the economic engine that will not only lead to future success but will be their primary reason for existence. With a major investment in airport infrastructure and global trade, the thought is that the rest of the city will thrive.

To those who have studied the birth of civilizations and the path that leads one community to economic success and another to irrelevance, this kind of thinking is not new. In the past it was natural resources upon which major cities were built – dictated by rivers and protected ports. Later communities grew from railroad investments, roadway investments and at times around the leadership of an entrepreneur (think Detroit and Henry Ford, Seattle and Bill Gates).

So, how does Memphis stack up in these kinds of analyses? According to Fast Company, very well. In the aerotropolis article, here is how Memphis is discussed:

“The closest thing to an aerotropolis in America today is Memphis International, home for 25 years to FedEx. Memphis has been the busiest cargo airport in the world now for 14 years running, a fact visitors learn before they’ve even left baggage claim. Ninety-four percent of that title is owed to FedEx, whose nightly “sort” is still one of the logistical wonders of the world.

Since its first sort in 1973, FedEx has become the largest private employer in a metropolitan area of close to 1 million people. The University of Memphis concluded in a study two years ago that the airport (and essentially FedEx) was directly and indirectly responsible for more than $20 billion in annual output and for 166,000 jobs–one of every four in the region. Only 30,000 or so of those are on FedEx’s payroll; the rest have flourished within the ecosystem of warehouses, trucking firms, factories, and offices nestled within its footprint.”

So, what does this mean for our bioscience community in Memphis? Bioscience, particularly medical treatment, will continue to develop along two paths. Path one is the creation of treatments and devices for mass use, but distributed on a just-in-time basis. Think of pharmaceuticals and musculoskeletal devices and tools. Path two is custom, genetically individualized treatment. Think new cancer treatments. What both of these have in common is the need for overnight distribution and logistics excellence. No other community in the United States can out distribute, out sort, out warehouse, or out deliver Memphis. This is our competitive advantage in retaining the strong medical and bioscience community we have today. This is our competitive advantage in attracting bioscience and medical companies in the future.

We can be the bioscience aerotropolis for the world. However, with cities (or would-be cities) across the globe now focused on this same issue, competition will be fierce. We are ahead on the aerotropolis component, we need to step up on the education, and workforce components


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