Pitching Memphis

New Memphis Institute program sells young adults on city

By Andy Meek

Staunching a brain drain of college-age creative talent is a task cities around the country are undertaking with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Nike director of community and business relations Willie Gregory talks with interns at the New Memphis Institute's 2013 Summer Experience kick-off reception at Felicia Suzanne’s.

(Didi Crandall)

In Memphis, that sales job begins in earnest each summer. And it results in a big push to introduce college-educated interns to top executives and local cultural attractions – basically, the best the city has to offer – in the hope those young people will put down roots here.

The New Memphis Institute’s yearly Summer Experience program kicked off June 11 with a reception sponsored by Nike at Felicia Suzanne’s. The free program, now in its fifth year, offers a way for college students, graduate students and recent grads working or interning in the city for the summer to rub shoulders with city leaders, connect with their peers and experience the city in a variety of ways.

The kick-off reception launched what will be a string of events throughout the summer including community service at Shelby Farms Park, a teambuilding event at the Kroc Center, and several other networking opportunities and career development events.

Program organizers say it’s making a difference. In 2012, more than 560 students from 110 colleges and universities – representing 96 hometowns – participated in the Summer Experience. And of those participants, 97 percent told the New Memphis Institute they’re more likely to launch their careers in Memphis as a result of going through the program.

“This really is going to move the needle in growing the number of college-educated young people in Memphis,” said Nancy Coffee, the New Memphis Institute’s president and CEO. “It’s great talent that drives our economic development. This was started because we knew we needed to be deliberate in sharing the city’s assets. This summer, we’ll have events like a leadership breakfast with three FedEx executives. Young people need to meet leaders like that. But we also don’t ignore just the fun of meeting one’s peers.”

“This really is going to move the needle in growing the number of college-educated young people in Memphis.”

–Nancy Coffee
President and CEO, New Memphis Institute

The Summer Experience puts participants in the same circles, for example, as some of the city’s biggest corporate names. Corporate sponsors of the weekly events include AutoZone, Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corp., Duncan-Williams Inc., FedEx, First Tennessee Foundation, Henry Turley Co., Nike, Northwestern Mutual and The ServiceMaster Co.

The New Memphis Institute and the business leaders who lend their time and imprimatur to the summer series of events do it partly because they know how important the years immediately following college are for a young adult. It’s when big life choices are made, and long-term decisions get set in motion.

The Summer Experience thus marks an attempt to help as many young people as possible lay a foundation on which they can build a life in Memphis. The initiative particularly targets young people who might not otherwise have chosen to do so – perhaps because they just aren’t aware of the possibilities here.

Coming events include a “Go Green Service Project” at Shelby Farms Park Thursday, June 27, sponsored by ServiceMaster.

Also, Northwestern Mutual is sponsoring a professional development workshop July 9, and FedEx is sponsoring a leadership breakfast July 11 with FedEx chief information officer Rob Carter, FedEx chief human resources and diversity officer Shannon Brown and FedEx general counsel Christine Richards.

Bringing things to a close at the end of July is an end-of-summer social July 30 at High Point Ballroom sponsored by Duncan-Williams Inc.

“Over the past 10 years, few topics have been discussed in Shelby County as much as talent,” Coffee said. “New Memphis believes that efforts such as the Summer Experience fills a crucial void in our community by proactively inviting young people to start their careers or remain in the greater Memphis area.”