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VOL. 129 | NO. 95 | Thursday, May 15, 2014

Economic Gardening Program Expands Reach

By Amos Maki

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A program aimed at helping small and midsize companies grow is being expanded with the hope it will allow existing companies to extend their roots in the community.

Reid Dulberger, president of EDGE, was joined by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and County Mayor Mark Luttrell in announcing the expansion of Economic Gardening.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Economic Gardening program, which was launched as a pilot program last year to help 22 existing businesses reach the next level, is expanding to assist 25 more companies, and local officials hope the program can become a permanent fixture in the local economic development toolbox.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Reid Dulburger, president of the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County, announced the expansion of the business-building program during a Tuesday, May 13, reception at Memphis Botanic Garden.

The EDGE board approved $50,000 to expand the program to include 25 additional companies and Dulburger said he would ask the board for another $50,000 for the next fiscal year, saying the program adds another important level of support for existing small to midsize companies.

“This was the board saying if this program works we need to expand the funds to do it,” Dulburger said.

The program, which is spearheaded by EDGE and Wharton’s Innovation Delivery Team, was an outgrowth of efforts to find ways to aid smaller local companies, which might not qualify for traditional incentives like tax credits and property tax freezes.

To qualify for the program, companies must have between seven and 99 employees, and between $700,000 and $50 million in annual revenue.

The program essentially acts as a fertilizer for smaller businesses, providing extra capacity to help boost their future prospects.

Companies receive focused, strategic advisory services – at no cost – that can help them expand. The companies get access to a team of local and national experts as well as an extensive database from the Edward Lowe Foundation to help with everything from improved marketing to identifying new business opportunities.

National Bankers Trust, which provides financing to small businesses based on the company’s purchasing and accounts receivables accounts, entered the program to help identify other business sectors it could engage with.

National Bankers Trust, which has around 65 employees now but hopes to grow to 150 employees, has been heavily focused on transportation-related business and needed to branch out to reach its growth target.

The Economic Gardening program, using detailed Geographic Information System and business data, provided National Bankers Trust with a mountain of information on Mid-South companies that might fit the lender’s profile.

“They basically gave us a list of all the companies that met our niche and they pull all the information on those companies,” said Jeff Rose, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for National Bankers Trust. “It was on par with what you would get from a professional consulting company.”

After hearing criticism for years that local officials didn’t do enough to support small business, EDGE has introduced several new incentive programs in the hopes of expanding the number and types of businesses it can reach. The Economic Gardening program is one of six tools EDGE has deployed to providing financing and aid for local small businesses.

“We have a lot of opportunity here and now you’re seeing this layering of support,” said Dulburger. “It’s a more holistic approach.”

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 70 134 16,547
MORTGAGES 72 144 21,576
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 5 31 4,297
BUILDING PERMITS 209 209 39,587
BANKRUPTCIES 80 149 15,691
BUSINESS LICENSES 15 28 5,519
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 117 201 23,774
MARRIAGE LICENSES 14 51 5,086

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