When Kimberly Taylor decided to launch her boutique K’PreSha, she considered East Memphis and Downtown.
Ultimately, she chose a location on South Main Street a few blocks south of Beale.
Taylor said the $40,000 retail development loan she received through the Downtown Memphis Commission gave her the extra push to choose the Downtown site. The loan helped make a dent in the more than $100,000 in capital she estimated she needed to launch the clothing and accessories boutique in May 2011.
The roughly 1,500-square-foot storefront needed rehabilitation, including installing bathrooms. Taylor said it would have been a stretch to choose the South Main Historic Arts District locale without the retail development loan.
“It was really the fact that they offered the incentives that it gave us a little edge to go Downtown,” she says.
More than 20 Downtown businesses have benefited from retail development loans of up to $40,000, according to the commission’s first quarter diversity report. Many of those businesses are owned by women and minorities.
Under the program, the loans are forgivable and can become a grant if the business stays open at least five years and keeps regular hours. At the end of each year, the monthly loan payments are returned to the business owner if they have met all the program’s requirements.
While the retail development loan program is on hold while the commission evaluates its economic development programs, DMC president Paul Morris said all the development programs are structured to offer equal opportunities to all applicants, including women- and minority-owned businesses.
Any development projects that receive financial incentives from the commission must commit to a best-faith effort to achieve at least a 20 percent minority participation level. All of the commission’s programs are structured to stimulate economic development in Downtown Memphis and create what Morris calls a “vibrant Downtown” landscape.
“None of our programs are government entitlements,” he said. “So if there is a deal that doesn’t economically need our help, we are not going to throw money at that type of project.”
Morris said the commission also has actively worked to promote equal opportunities by making sure any business awarded incentives makes contractor opportunities available to all qualified businesses regardless of race or gender. They also help women- and minority-owned businesses connect with other businesses through networking.
“It’s not about quotas or giving special treatment to women- and minority-owned businesses,” he said. “It’s about making sure everyone who is qualified has the opportunity to bid on the project.”
Many women- and minority-owned businesses Downtown also have taken advantage of the DMC’s facade improvement matching grant and office incentive grants. The commission will pay up to half of the tenant improvement costs for new Downtown offices, a figure that is typically capped based on the number of employees hired. The DMC also will help storeowners improve their facades by offering matching funds.
While Taylor said foot traffic on South Main is still slower than she’d like, she remains optimistic about the future of the area.
“It’s slowly getting better on this end,” she said. “I think in a year or so, it will be really cool.”
She’s hoping the new cupcake and wine bar that is slated to open across the street will bring more foot traffic.
The Downtown Memphis Commission isn’t the only source of funding for women- and minority-owned businesses.
The city-county Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) also actively creates opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses by requiring any business awarded tax incentives to commit 25 percent of its capital expenditures to businesses that meet its diversity qualifications.
Natasha Donerson, EDGE board member and current president of the Memphis chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, said that process ensures that the bidding process is open to both minority-owned businesses and women.
She also personally recently received a $75,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority to help women-owned businesses grow and scale to meet market needs.
“Very few women business owners ever make it to the $1 million mark,” she said. “When you can take a small business and help it grow, you can have a bigger impact on the community.”
Donerson said there are many resources available to women but few that specifically focus on the unique challenges of women-owned businesses.
“It’s about knowing how to tell that story and putting together a plan to grow,” she said. “I wanted something that was only open to women.”