Consultant helps shape aerotropolis strategy; Plan would capitalize on airport traffic, create commerce zone

The day Tom Schmitt takes over as chairman of the Memphis Regional Chamber in early December, the city will get its first glimpse of what it will take to build an aerotropolis here.

The strategy will be unveiled at the Chamber's Chairman's Luncheon Dec. 6, a year after the city got its introduction to the concept by the professor giving it traction around the world.

"We're doing very basic and simple things to send the right message," said Schmitt, president and chief executive of FedEx Supply Chain Solutions. "It's intentional, not coincidental."

In the six weeks since Schmitt was appointed head of the 15-member aerotropolis committee, the group has met twice and hired John Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, to oversee progress.

By early November, Kasarda is to have Memphis-specific proposals for ushering in the aerotropolis, the term he coined for emerging centers of commerce growing up around powerful airports.

"An example might be connecting the airport with major Memphis attractions," Schmitt said, by co-branding air and ground transportation to get people quickly to tourist spots.

"Another might be looking at what we are or are not doing with retail in and around the airport."

The aerotropolis is a component of Memphis Fast Forward, the five-year blueprint with quantifiable objectives for injecting vitality into economic prosperity, workforce development, government efficiency and safety.

It is being funded by city and county government, the Chamber and Memphis Tomorrow, a group of chief executives from the biggest companies in town.

The same group is also paying Kasarda $5,000 a month for six to 12 months to get the plan written.

"If we can get one big thing going, it will give Memphis Fast Forward some tailwind. I think the aerotropolis could be that one thing," Schmitt said.

Kasarda cites Memphis International Airport - for 15 years the busiest cargo airport in the world - as the best example of an emerging aerotropolis in the nation.

Capitalizing on it, Kasarda says, means charting a course for growth based on the wisest uses of land, resources and zoning.

His research has spurred interest around the globe, including in Detroit and Dallas where he is also a paid consultant.

Late last year, The New York Times named the aerotropolis concept among its Best Ideas A to Z.

"Dr. Kasarda has been involved with airport cities all over the world," said John Moore, Chamber chief executive.

"We're in a dynamic and rapidly growing airport city environment. We're not the only ones looking at the value of our key transportation. It's as much an effort to remain competitive in the future as it is to develop the asset we have for the community."

The aerotropolis committee - a compilation of decision-makers from business, government, the airport and academia - meets again June 29.

Until then, it is "cutting and pasting smart ideas" that cities like Shanghai, Amsterdam and Dallas are using to develop their own economic reach, Schmitt said.

"We're looking at which ones we should be leveraging in Memphis."

-Jane Roberts: 529-2512

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