Editorial: Candy Business has Lessons for Memphis

Saturday, February 15, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 8

There are lessons to be learned from even the basic outline of the story of candy in Memphis that go far beyond making something sweet.

The traditional components of the city’s better-known business narratives – innovation, tenacity, adapting to change – are part of the outline.

But there are other elements from the post-World War II rise of the industry and commerce in Memphis that are relevant to the civic conversations we continue to have 14 years into the 21st century.

The veterans of that war who returned home and came to our city in search of a new future for themselves and their families probably didn’t think of themselves as innovators on a grand scale or masters of a larger societal change, as our cover story relates.

They kept it basic. Ambitious, but as basic as the connections that established the veterans cab companies in Memphis and elsewhere. Or the numerous small corner and neighborhood stores that sold Super Bubble, made in a Memphis factory near the Indian mounds, sent to a nearby warehouse at Carolina and Second and from that loading dock trucked to stores in three states.

Businesses are built in times that will change and leave some of them behind, even most of them. But those changes will also change businesses that adapt and continue from Super Bubble to baseball cards to Air Heads. In between those two options are other options, other possibilities and other aspirations.

You could probably say “other” is the biggest change agent out there in a time when we try so hard to quantify ever part of a process in business and memorialize it.

Businesses are built on markets or a need for goods or services. Businesses are built with relationships. And when businesses evolve and endure, they do so with larger lessons about building communities.

When they don’t endure, they leave legacies that challenge us to look at the more basic qualities of life beyond infrastructure and other things like parks the government provides under that banner.

They are the qualities that result when citizens can make a fair wage for their work and see possibilities for their lives and the lives of their children as a result. They can choose where to live with more options instead of letting their circumstances be the sole factor in that decision.

If the businesses and what they do and where they are change over time, the ability to build a productive life through being able to see beyond the next day or the next paycheck should remain the goal of building a Memphis economy rooted in a productivity that is larger than the workplace.

With all of our concerns about the decisions business leaders make, we sometimes lose sight of the decisions made by the citizens who work at those businesses when they aren’t on the clock.

The two types of decisions aren’t mutually exclusive.