Greater Memphis Chamber president and CEO cites strong jobs rebound, economic pipeline for the metro

The economic outlook for the Bluff City appears be trending in the right direction.

Ted Townsend, president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, said on Jan. 11 — at the organization’s 2023 State of the Economy for Greater Memphis — that it took the local economy about 10 years to recover job losses due to the Great Recession, while the national average recovery time was six years.

In comparison, he stated it has only taken two years for Memphis to recover jobs losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, a quicker pace than the 2.5 years found nationally. In February 2020, the Memphis metro’s total employment stood at approximately 658,000 — a figure matched and surpassed in March 2022, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

In addition, Townsend said Memphis had a more than 10% growth rate in the metro’s GDP [gross domestic product] in 2022, and Memphis is one of the top 20 metros where wage growth is outpacing inflation. The Chamber also reported that the Memphis metro area added 2,700 jobs in November, which set a new metro employment high of 671,500 jobs, according to a report from the Chamber’s data and analytics arm, the Greater Memphis Economic Research Group.

“We recovered those jobs that we lost in the pandemic,” Townsend said. “Also, seven of the last nine months, we’ve actually broken the record for job participation in our economy and we expect that to continue to grow. We’re obviously seeing some buoyancy and resiliency in our economic indicators, and I think this is going to continue to trend.”

Promising pipeline

Townsend expressed his optimism for some new potential economic growth happening in the Memphis area. He indicated that there would be new economic announcements coming in the first quarter of 2023. The most recent Chamber economic development pipeline for the Greater Memphis region shows 25 prospects, representing $10.7 billion in estimated capital investment; more than 7,000 estimated new jobs; and average annual wages in the aggregate of about $52,500.

According to Townsend, the economic development prospects in the pipeline are those that the Chamber has been engaging with for quite a while.

“We’re not just entering these project cycles right now, we’ve been working these for the better part of a year,” he said. “They are highly complex financial transactions and decisions. And given the fact that we’re seeing more manufacturing in our pipeline, that is encouraging because manufacturing R&D [research and development] offers connective tissue to the community. It’s really hard to uproot those and move to another location. For us, seeing more of that activity and consideration in our market, speaks to the fact that Memphis is investible and attractive for that kind of firm right now.”

BlueOval boost

Townsend said while there continues to be some concern in the national economy because of the ongoing challenges in the capital markets with bonds and interest rates, however, he feels strongly about where Memphis is heading.

“I think 2023 will be our springboard year,” he said. “There was some course correcting in 2021 and certainly that continued in 2022. We didn’t see as many announcements in 2022. There was a rebound effect of having a record year [locally] in 2021.”

The continuing construction of Ford Motor Co./SK On’s BlueOval City in West Tennessee, plus businesses supporting the $5.6 billion mega manufacturing campus in Stanton, should be pivotal for the growth of the area as well.

“Ford hasn’t announced their suppliers list yet, and I think that is imminent,” Townsend said. “I believe that is the watershed moment for us. All those projects we have in our pipeline, they are waiting for those announcements to occur and to really unlock a lot of movement. So, I think 2023 is our launch year and not [just] to where we were pre-pandemic, because I think we’ve already gotten there. But now, we’re going to see incremental growth in a lot of different sectors.”

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