Ted Townsend incoming Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce CEO

Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 10:33 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - When Ted talks, people listen.

Ted Townsend, the man selected to lead the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce when the current CEO and president, Beverly Robertson, steps down in six months, is a man in demand.

Robertson, the former president of the National Civil Rights Museum, was tapped to lead the chamber through difficult times: the death of its longtime CEO Phil Trenary, and the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

After four years, she’s ready to hand over the reins to Townsend, someone she said is a “most capable successor.”

“Following in those footsteps is pretty heavy,” Townsend told Action News 5 about succeeding Robertson, “it’s not very often you get a chance to follow someone who I feel is a local icon.”

Like Robertson, Townsend said he’ll stress inclusivity as he tries to attract new businesses to Memphis.

“We’re seeing more and more tech companies,” he said, “companies where diversity, equity, and inclusion are the main drivers for them as they consider where to place investment in the U.S. They’re seeing Memphis as a more viable option because of our diversity.

We have the highest concentration of women in tech here and we have the highest concentration of Black talent in manufacturing. Everyone can participate in this economy.”

When Townsend was the Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development in Nashville, longtime chamber leader Phil Trenary was so impressed with his work he asked him a very serious question.

“Toward the end of the meeting,” said Townsend, “he leaned across the table and said, ‘hey, you want to run a chamber?’ And without hesitation, I said yes! “Townsend said Trenary told him he was looking to do other things, and he thought Townsend would be a great fit for the chamber. But in September 2018, Trenary was killed in a shooting in downtown Memphis. Townsend took a job at his alma mater, the University of Memphis, as the school’s first Chief Economic Development Officer focused on government relations.

He secured nearly $46 million in new state funding for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research building, helped the school achieve the prestigious Carnegie R1 designation given to top-tier research universities and secured $6 million for Sprague Hall at the U of M Lambuth Campus to expand the College of Nursing.

He also worked on securing $2 million from Shelby County Government for the Mike Rose Aquatic Center.

Townsend also helped establish a series of public-private partnerships and led the opening of the University of Memphis Research Foundation Research Park and the recruitment of companies such as Prospero, CodeCrew, SweetBio, DEVCON, and Green Mountain Technology, resulting in over 500 new jobs over the next five years and more than $10 million in capital investment.

And just like Trenary, Robertson came calling, hoping to utilize Townsend’s passion, persistence, knowledge, and connections to market Memphis globally.

“You can’t tell Beverly Robertson ‘no’ twice,” Townsend said, “I told her the first time it’s not a ‘no’, it’s just a ‘not now. But when she came calling again, it was just too much of an opportunity to pass up. I’ve been incredibly blessed and honored to have this experience both at the state level and now at the local level.”

In his economic development role at the chamber since 2020 (while still holding down his job at the U of M until October 2021), Townsend celebrated Ford Motor Company selecting West Tennessee for the Blue Oval City electric truck plant and battery campus, a nearly $6 billion deal creating thousands of jobs for the region.

He kicked off the chamber’s “Prosper Memphis” program a few weeks ago, a program to bring 50,000 high-quality jobs to Memphis by 2030 and to produce 20,000 STEM grads a year by 203. Townsend’s now poised to make his mark elevating Memphis’ role in the post-pandemic world.

“I hope everyone understands that Memphis’ economy is in a phase of growth,” he said. We have more people working now than ever in our history. We have more projects under management now than we’ve ever seen. We see this as an incredible opportunity and wave of growth for Memphis and we want people to flex that. We’ve made a full recovery and now we’re seeing growth and we expect that to continue. So that will be my dedication and commitment.”

He’ll become the chamber’s new CEO when Robertson steps down in December to return to her family’s business.

Robertson and her husband created Trust Marketing. She took a hiatus from the company in the late 90′s to run the NCRM until 2014, where she led a $43 million fundraising campaign to pay for massive renovations to the museum.

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