Economic Stimulus Can Be a Great Local Boost or a Complete National Bust

Every day, the news is filled with stories about the uses of Federal dollars to stimulate the economy on a local and national scale. The argument, as it should be, usually centers around what is a good investment and what is a complete waste of dollars. Following some of the stories borders on the absurd; AIG and multi-million dollar bonuses being paid, for example. Others run more along political criticisms, such as the recent editorial criticizing Senator Bob Corker for both lambasting the federal appropriations bill as “pork-filled” and at the same time having his own earmark for Memphis Bioworks in that very bill. I responded to that editorial because I felt it was an unfair criticism. That response is reprinted below:

“In your March 16 editorial “Sen. Corker Dilemma” the paper misses a very important point about the Senator’s position against wasteful and frivolous appropriations that benefit few and his position supporting initiatives good for his constituents and home communities. What the paper should have been weighing is whether the Senator’s earmarks for federal dollars pass the transparency test of pork versus real economic development. The $760,000 Bioworks earmark is exactly the kind of investment this community and this country need. For a significant construction project, this modest investment attracts other capital and helps to further establish Memphis as a center for bioscience business, education, discovery and entrepreneurism – which as a result will create long-term jobs, opportunities and even scientific breakthroughs from which all will benefit. The West-Tennessee delegation from each party in Washington has supported this kind of investment over the last few years. The community should be commending Senator Corker for both his results-focused approach to federal spending and his opposition to outrageous earmarks that some of his congressional associates have pushed in other states.” Ran in the Commercial Appeal on Wednesday, March 18.

At Memphis Bioworks, we feel very strongly about the economic incentive opportunities because if the dollars are strategically appropriated, they can create meaningful long-term results for our community. Good earmarks and strong support for projects has come, and will continue to come from both sides of the political aisle. When recently asked by our local city administration for ideas to submit to Washington, we were able to immediately identify 11 different investments that can be completed in a 12 to 18 month period and that can begin to have an immediate positive impact. The projects, if funded, share some traits that are important to meaningful stimulus:
– Shovel-ready infrastructure construction.
– Immediate and long-term job construction.
– Entrepreneurship support, especially in relationship to technology and bioscience start-up companies.
– Health services and strategies to reduce healthcare costs and simultaneously improve the quality of care for under-served populations.
– Green jobs.

For example, construction and development of a new Vivarium at the UT-Baptist Research Park is shovel-ready. Such a project would provide some 200 construction jobs, some 50 technician/science jobs at start-up 18 months later. Another 85 direct and 125 indirect jobs would be created in five years. Or, in the AgBio realm, the fermentation equipment at Harding Bottling Co. could be renovated for use in converting municipal wood waste and sweet sorghum syrup into fuel ethanol. The technology to do this is ready; the investment just needs to be made. Some 50 construction jobs would result initially, with more than 60 farming, transportation and bio-refinery jobs at start-up in just 14 months. Another 150 indirect jobs would result in the five years following the opening.

We are in the most challenging economic environment any of us has ever faced (with the exception of the grandparents and great grandparents we are fortunate to still have with us and who survived the great depression). This economic environment has created the largest federal financial investment in local communities ever launched. Make no mistake; it is a battle between communities coast-to-coast to get their “fair share.”

While no one yet knows where all of the money will be allocated, one thing you can be sure of is that any dollars we receive will be spent with focus, appropriate due diligence and an eye on creating the jobs and opportunities that will benefit the people of our community for decades to come.

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