UofM Government Relations and Policy Spurs Economic Growth in University District

September 16, 2019 - Since beginning the Government Relations and Policy in 2018, the University of Memphis has brought in $18.3 million in private investments from local, national and international companies.

 Ted Townsend, chief economic development and government relations officer for the University, gave a presentation to the Board of Visitors recently on how his division is helping to shape economic development in the University District.

 “Our division is focused on creating pathways for students so they have exciting, dynamic careers when they leave the University,” Townsend said.

 Among the items discussed was the Highland Revitalization Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and its completed infrastructure projects and associated spending over the past year.

 To date, the Highland Strip Activated Crosswalk and Mural ($200,000), SkyCop Camera Network ($90,000), Railroad Quiet Zone ($10,000) and the Walker Avenue Parking Lot LED Lighting ($5,000) projects have launched. Future items include the Highland Streetscape Improvements Vision ($18 million), for which plans were revealed at a community meeting last month.

“This is all to create a vibrant and safe neighborhood for our students, partners and neighbors and to create a boulevard-type environment along Highland,” Townsend said.

 Other economic activity in the University District includes the Park Avenue TIF and the University District Economic Incentives Package, a collaboration between EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine), UNDC and the UofM, to develop a University District-specific toolbox of economic development incentives.

 The University also opened the UMRF Research Park in collaboration with Townsend’s division in early 2019 as an innovation hub attracting global talent and enhancing the community the University serves.

 The University is seeking Carnegie 1 research institution designation, awarded to universities with the highest research activity. Eighty-five percent of Carnegie Classified R1 Research Institutions have an affiliated research park. Currently, the Research Park is at 95% capacity, demonstrating the University’s ability to recruit startup companies and researchers from the Mid-South, the nation and around the world.

 “We are looking for the Research Park to be a hub for the transfer of technology out of the University but also to attract technology and research to the district,” said Townsend.

 Some of the more prominent success stories in the Research Park are Green Mountain Technology and SweetBio, which began in the UofM’s bioengineering lab. Green Mountain Technology has funded a two-year, post-doctoral position at $200,000 to enhance the University’s position as a prominent research institution.

 Participating companies in the Research Park have hired or engaged with more than 30 University of Memphis students, yielding $200,000 in compensation among full-time employees, interns, contractors and consultants. To date, more than 40 high-paying jobs have been created in the University District.

 “There’s growing research capacities as well; we connect these companies to our researchers,” Townsend said.

 The UMRF Research Park will establish the University District as a technology innovation hub, enhance the community it serves, attract global talent and create a new avenue for corporate citizens to engage with the University of Memphis. The most important objectives of the Research Park are economic development and University technology development.

In addition, Townsend’s group is working to enhance the UofM’s brand globally as well as to establish it as an entrepreneurship landing pad.

 “We’re grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the economic development enterprise, and we will continue to do so in the years to come,” Townsend said.

 Townsend joined the UofM in 2018 to lead its economic development activities in Memphis and Jackson, Tenn., to include attracting and retaining University-area businesses and working to increase internship and employment opportunities for students. He previously served the State of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development, serving nearly half of that term as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer. Townsend holds a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership from the UofM.

 The Office of Economic Development and Government Relation mission is to focus on University-driven economic development by strategically positioning community-based public and private investments that attract high-quality job growth through the creation, expansion and recruitment of advanced technology businesses.