The vacant Gibson Guitar building now is on course to be filled with FedEx logistics operations employees. (Photo: Karanja Ajanaku)

by Dena S. Owens and Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
Special to The New Tri-State Defender

On Tuesday, FedEx announced a plan to locate its logistics operations headquarters next to FedExForum, using the now vacant Gibson Guitar Factory building. With renovations expected to be completed by the spring of 2020, the move will initially create 350 new jobs and relocate 350 current employees, with the aim of adding up to 500 more in years to come. 

In addition, the project includes contracting and subcontracting opportunities for minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) as guided by the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Equal Business Opportunity Program, which seeks to have at least 25 percent participation from minority- and women-owned businesses. 

The FedEx announcement comes on the heels of the recent move by ServiceMaster to locate its headquarters in downtown Memphis.

Repurposing vacant spaces is part of the city’s plan to tackle blight and build a more vibrant city core, and with two new global corporate giants housed downtown, more plans are in the works for nearby development. 

Shortly after the FedEx news, Somera Road, Inc., the owner of the Gibson Guitar facility and adjacent parking lot, announced investment in the first major office tower in downtown Memphis in 20 years.

Named “The Clipper,” the building will be constructed on the 385-space parking lot near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and B.B. King Boulevard. The structure will house office space, a 250-room hotel, retail and restaurants on the first level and rooftop event space.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was in Memphis Tuesday for the FedEx announcement and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was on hand to publicly thank Richard Smith, chief executive officer of FedEx Logistics and chairman of the Greater Memphis Chamber, “for making Memphis a priority.” He added, “Memphis has momentum. We will accelerate as a team, ‘keeping the pedal to the medal’ and building up and not out.”

“Welcome home, FedEx!” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. Referring to efforts to repurpose and reuse vacant buildings, he added, “Your decision is a sign that Memphis has turned a corner.” 

Global importance in downtown Memphis is indeed attracting other corporations according to city data, which could add to the Memphis skyline and the city overall, making it more viable for the future workforce. FedEx Logistics and FedExForum in lights on adjacent rooftops will make a bold statement about the city’s economic intentions. 

“Memphis is on a roll,” said Beverly Robertson, interim executive director for the Greater Memphis Chamber, while noting other new downtown developments, including Union Row, Riverfront Development projects and the relocation of the Brooks Museum. “Our amenities attract young urban professionals for jobs,” Robertson said. 

Noting that his family is from Memphis, Lee said, “That is why it makes me so happy to announce that FedEx Logistics will be locating its corporate headquarters right here in downtown Memphis.”

Pictured (l-r): Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Gov. Bill Lee, Greater Memphis Chamber President Richard Smith, chief executive officer of FedEx Logistics, and Beverly Robertson, the chamber’s interim executive director. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

The $44 million project will add an additional 45,000 square feet to the 154,000-square-foot structure.

“These are transformative times in Memphis, and I could not be happier to be a part of it. As a resident, I am excited to see my hometown succeed,” said Smith.

He promised that the new headquarters would be “the coolest” FedEx headquarters anywhere, adding that economic expansion now happening will make his kids want to return after they finish school.

In a brief interview following the press conference, Strickland was asked about the impact of the move and renovation on minority contractors and their level of inclusion on the project. 

“FedEx Logistics will receive a PILOT from the city and county,” said Strickland. “To meet the requirements, there is a required level of participation to include women and minority contractors, or they will not qualify. So it is assured that there will definitely be minority contract participation.”

The EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine) awards a PILOT to stimulate, retain and attract new businesses. The PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) is a property tax abatement given to corporations that are building new structures or expanding and renovating existing ones. In return, the company agrees to contract with local small, minority- and women-owned businesses. The idea is that job opportunities would be created and sustained, thus stimulating the local economy. 

FedEx Logistics, which presently employs 22,000 people, provides air and ocean freight forwarding, specialty transportation and supply, and e-commerce services.

FedEx Corporation is the city’s largest employer with more than 30,000 working at various locations. The company employs 450,000 worldwide.  

(To learn more about the bidding process for contracting and subcontracting jobs through the Downtown Memphis Commission, visit