Tick Tock - As clock advances into '07, last year's highlights might indicate this year's potential

January 4, 2007

Vol. 122, No. 3

ANDY MEEK | The Daily News

Memphis International Airport's biggest milestone in 2006 might have been its eye-catching new rotunda in Concourse B, transformed over the past year along with nearby corridors into a Memphis-themed mini-mall.

Without a doubt, the revamping of the airport's concessions and retail offerings was so extensive that at the Irish pub Maggie O'Shea's, some wood was imported from Ireland.

From another perspective, the airport's most noteworthy milestone of the past year could have been the continued desire around the world to replicate its success.

In summer 2006, for example, the Huadu Airport Economy Forum in China attracted some 300 entrepreneurs and experts to discuss ways to capitalize on the growth of the Guangzhou New Baiyun International Airport, one of China's three major airports. A goal highlighted at the forum was to "Build Huadu into China's Memphis."

Those are just a taste of the events and achievements that marked 2006 at Memphis' internationally significant airport, which handles some 11 million passengers a year and holds the distinction of being the largest cargo airport in the world.

For the multimillion-dollar improvements to its concession program, Memphis International won the Richard A. Griesbach Award of Excellence in the 2006 Airport Concessions Contest, sponsored by the Airports Council International-North America. The honor is the highest an airport can receive for its concession program.

A handshake between friends
However, some noteworthy occurrences in 2006 escaped widespread public notice.
The $86 billion merger approved Dec. 29 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) between BellSouth and AT&T - which created the largest telecom provider in the world - actually had its genesis in Memphis several months earlier.

Flying their corporate jets to an airport hangar at Memphis International - apparently the most convenient midway point between their companys' respective headquarters - AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. and BellSouth CEO F. Duane Ackerman worked out the giant merger on notepads, according to BusinessWeek, and ended by shaking hands. No attorneys or bankers joined them at the low-key Memphis meeting.

"While much has changed at Memphis International over the last year, much also remains the same," wrote Arnold Perl, chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority (MSCAA), and Larry Cox, president and CEO of MSCAA, in the airport authority's 2006 annual report.
"We remain the world's leader in air cargo. Last year was our 14th consecutive year to hold this international distinction."

Pyramids and Eiffel Towers
Another big highlight came late in the year, when members of Air France's North American sales and marketing group came to Memphis in November for their annual meeting. Memphis officials took the opportunity to lobby for the creation of a transatlantic flight from Memphis to Paris' Charles de Gaulle International Airport.

There's still a long way to go, however, before any deal - if one even comes to fruition - is worked out for a Memphis-to-Paris flight.

"You've got to remember, we just took advantage of the fact that they came to Memphis to hold a sales meeting, and we put the hard sell on them," Cox said. "In order for us to have a Memphis-to-Paris flight, it's got to be a cooperative venture between Northwest Airlines, which has a hub here, and Air France, which has a hub in Paris.

"And I think until Northwest gets out of bankruptcy, with all the other discussions about mergers and so forth - I think until the dust settles, we can't realistically expect that we're going to have any new developments on a Memphis-to-Paris route."

Ex-tra, Ex-tra
In other 2006 highlights, FedEx and the company's 4,700 pilots agreed on a contract, details of which had been under negotiation for more than two years.

Among the terms, the pilots got a 9 percent annual raise for the first year of the four-year contract, to be followed by subsequent raises each year. That contract went into effect Oct. 30.
The largest private employer in Memphis, FedEx's Memphis operation - with a local payroll of some 30,000 employees - certainly is the envy of the world, a fact born out by worldwide projects under way that use the Memphis hub as a benchmark.

The $33 billion Dubai World Central complex planned for the United Arab Emirates will include residential and commercial features - as well as a logistics hub with more than three times the capacity of what FedEx has in Memphis, according to the July 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.

Jo Ferreira, FedEx's managing director of hub-area business development, said in the article that she constantly is juggling requests from between 40 and 50 companies angling for space around Memphis, where there's a large semi-skilled workforce and large swaths of warehouse space.
"What we're looking at is continuing to complete construction of the projects that we have on our plate at the present time and continuing to try to improve the airport from a customer service standpoint," Cox said. "It's the things we do every day, every week, every month and every year that will help us improve the airport."

What's coming up
More attention is expected to be placed on the concept of the aerotropolis, a term coined by John Kasarda, a faculty member of the University of North Carolina who recently visited Memphis. He touted Memphis' dominance as a world leader in creating an airport-driven center of commerce.
"Airports will shape business location and urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th and seaports in the 18th," Kasarda said, a quote that's included in the MSCAA annual report.