Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris

Referring to tax breaks and other incentives that governments provide to help sweeten the  pot when seeking to lure private industry, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said the jury still is out on that as a vehicle for creating more jobs.

“The tax breaks frequently create controversy and rightly so,” Harris said in remarks released ahead of his State of the County Address at the Halloran Center Friday afternoon. “These programs frequently use the force of government to transfer public resources into private hands. Sometimes these transfers to private business can represent millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of dollars.

“… I still believe that the private sector creates private sector jobs,” Harris said. “Call me an old-fashioned, free-market conservative Democrat who represents working people. I don’t believe governments should be in the business of picking winners and losers.”

Governments, said Harris, should stay out of private business as much as possible, adding that the public is right to want to see some level of scrutiny of those investments. He favors investment in public assets and in people over tax breaks when it comes to economic development.

“That means we should invest more in workforce,” Harris said. “We should make sure that our community is full of individuals with skills that employers find in-demand. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself.”

Harris, who noted that his administration is prioritizing the work of WIN and the American Job Center in its effort to help job-seekers, said the county opened a third American Job Center in Shelby County this week.

“… There are simply fewer jobs associated with today’s high-tech enterprises, like Google, Amazon, or Apple,” Harris said. “And given the arrival of automation, there are fewer jobs at even low-tech enterprises. The number of middle-class jobs that are available in the New Economy seems to be shrinking.”

The jobs that are left are going to be filled by people who can add some value, who have the right kind of training, who can take on and handle responsibility and who show initiative, Harris said.

“The American Job Center is in the business of making sure job-seekers in this community can compete in this new Economy.

As for ex-offenders, Harris said the Office of Re-entry, which helps offenders who are returning to communities after prison, will be asking the County Commission for new investments.

“ We want to be in a position to start new programs to help these ex-offenders get the training they’ll need to get a job or create a job in this New Economy,” Harris said. “We have brought in new leadership, Harold Collins, and under Mr. Collins’ leadership, later this year we will announce plans to turn part of the campus at the Office of Re-entry into a place where ex-offenders can learn a vocational skill and certification that make them eligible for a job.”

“That’s just the start,” Harris said. “If we make these kinds of investments, investments in workforce, we are likely to see a high return on investment.”

Harris said the state of the county, which includes Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Millington, Germantown, Lakeland and the City of Memphis, is strong with an estimated 950,000 citizens.

“There are communities all over the country that want to emulate us,” he said.