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VOL. 127 | NO. 59 | Monday, March 26, 2012

Participants Sought For e200 Biz Program

By Aisling Maki

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and the Small Business Administration are urging local small-business owners and executives to enroll in The Emerging 200.

The program is an intensive federal training initiative focused on accelerating the growth of high-potential businesses in the nation’s inner cities. Better known as e200, it is seeking to enroll 17 participants in Memphis, where free training sessions will be held starting April 19 at the Small Business Administration office at 555 Beale St.

“I’ve seen firsthand what small businesses do for this community and what the e200 Emerging Leaders program does for small businesses,” Wharton said. “As the Small Business Administration marks the start of a new class, I encourage Memphis entrepreneurs to apply.”

The e200 training series, which has so far graduated 60 local leaders, is not geared toward start-ups. It’s open to small-business owners and executives whose companies are in the inner city, have been in business for at least three years, and whose business revenues total at least $400,000.

The initiative focuses on businesses in historically economically distressed areas for which entrepreneurial success will generate new jobs, attract needed investment and provide a more sustainable economic base.

According to the SBA, government statistics “confirm that inner-city small businesses are the roaring engines of sustained economic growth and job creation.”

Memphis is the only city in Tennessee with an e200 program, and one of 27 cities across the country – including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Philadelphia and New Orleans – with an e200 program.

Participation in the program is free, with support from the SBA and its partners as an investment in the future success of the neighborhoods served by participating businesses.

“We want to make sure that we provide the tools to grow your business because at the end of the day we know that means jobs created,” said Walter Perry, district director at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Tennessee office. “That means economic growth right here in Memphis and Shelby County.”

The Memphis & Shelby County Office of Economic Development and Wharton’s and Luttrell’s offices sponsor e200 in Memphis.

The comprehensive curriculum arms qualified business owners with powerful tools to accelerate the growth of their businesses, expand their networks, diversify their markets and explore financing options.

The curriculum provides strategies to help business owners access new avenues of capital, secure contracts with larger business and government entities, and have practical tools to pursue new paths for business development.

“We go out and we fish for the big fish and bring them in here, but what the big fish tell us is, ‘If you don’t have small businesses to support us, then we can’t help you,’” Luttrell said. “When you go out and you grab an Electrolux or Mitsubishi, that’s nice to have, but it’s people like (small-business owners) who are really the foundation for us being able to be successful in that area.”

Participants are supported by a strong coalition of government organizations and professional associations, and mentored by experienced business advisers who can offer keen insight to business owners ready to take the next step.

“One of the things that I’ve learned in terms of growing my business and being a smart business person is taking advantage of every opportunity you have,” said Sandra Walls, president and CEO at AIL LLC, a Memphis-based company that provides acquisition management and logistics services.

Walls, a 2008 graduate of the e200 Emerging Leaders program, said her company – a service-disabled veteran-, woman- and minority-owned small business – grew from a home-based business to one that generates about $12 million a year, with headquarters at 1320 Peabody Ave. and branches in several states.

She said she’s grateful for the relationships she forged through her e200 participation and the ongoing collaborative attitude local graduates share in helping one another to succeed in growing their businesses.

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