David McKinney is the Greater Memphis Chamber’s new senior vice president of public policy. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

David McKinney, the new senior vice president of public policy for The Greater Memphis Chamber, recently sat down with The New Tri-State Defender to talk about business development and how his policy role will help guide the Chamber in its quest to make Memphis a magnet for big business and more fertile ground for home-grown small business. 

A Whitehaven native, McKinney had no idea when he studied for his business degree at the University of Memphis that he would wind up in law school. Now the lawyer with a passion for business development has landed a job that will allow him to use what he learned in both fields. McKinney began his legal career in private practice with the law firm of Burch, Porter and Johnson, PLLC. From private practice he moved to government.

David McKinney: … I’ve represented Memphis, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, Arlington, Shelby County and I saw then that, hey, there is a role for private and public to intersect. After leaving private practice I became associate general counsel for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, from there, senior assistant county attorney of Shelby County and I’ve handled a number of roles up until this role here, back in private industry.

John Semien: The Chamber also recently hired Eric Miller as its new senior vice president of Economic Development. Explain to me, from a policy stand point, how you will be working together and what the difference is between the two positions.

D.M: From a policy standpoint, it will be our responsibility to make sure policies, laws, ordinances and resolutions support economic growth and economic development in our community. We want to be comprehensive in that approach. I’m sure the SVP of economic development will also make sure that those policies marry up with his ability to go out and recruit and retain companies, jobs and employers in our community.

J.S.: So he will make sure he can deliver on the policies you come up with.

D.M.: I think that’s fair, because at the local and the state and even at the federal level that promote economic development we want to make sure that, as Mayor Strickland says, Memphis is viewed as the most business-friendly city in the country, and that expands beyond what we think of as very large businesses. The start-ups, MWBE’s, we want to make sure that they have a seat at that table at what we see as driving the ecosystem in Memphis.

J.S.: How much do you know about the Boyette Study commissioned by the Chamber? What can you tell me about it?

D.M.: The Boyette Study focuses on a number of things, one of which is gauging our economic competitiveness in relation to peer markets. They looked at various cities as far as incentives, at what we have to offer in terms of our ability to deliver certain services, such as education, at land availability, workforce development, a number of factors and some of the findings were very important to policy.

J.S: What do you think of the Boyette Study?

D.M.: I think that the Boyette Study provides a very independent analysis about some of the strengths and some of the weaknesses that we have here…We’ve got to have a more efficient and effective process for businesses that want to do business in Memphis. Mayor Strickland said it best, we want to be one of the most, if not the most business-friendly city in the country.

J.S.: It seems that there has been a directional change recently in terms of the Chamber becoming more aggressive when it comes to business recruitment and development. Is that true?

D.M.: I can’t speak to the past but, present and moving forward it will be very intentional. We will be in attack mode on economic development issues, on growth in the city of Memphis and Shelby County.

J.S.: So, more aggressive, would you say more inclusive?

D.M.: Absolutely.   One of the misnomers in general about the Chamber is that it’s exclusively for publicly traded companies, big businesses, which is just not accurate….We want to make sure that we are more inclusive. You can have a start-up, you can have a barbershop in Whitehaven, you can have a logistics company in Collierville, you can have a distribution place in Germantown….You have a place at the Chamber. The Chamber will be your advocate. That has to be a message that we share.