‘Memphis Message’

Chamber execs, business owners travel country to tout city’s strengths

By Amos Maki

During the recent Trans-Pacific Maritime conference in Long Beach, Calif., Memphis business leaders like Neely Mallory and Buzz Fly extolled the virtues of doing business in the Bluff City.

“A lot of times, corporate executives want to talk with other corporate executives. I’m paid to promote Memphis, and sometimes there’s a higher level of trust when they can talk with other corporate executives.”

–Mark Herbison
Greater Memphis Chamber 
Senior vice president of development 

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

When FedEx founder, chairman and CEO Fred Smith addressed the crowd, the Greater Memphis Chamber’s logo was featured prominently on the large screen to his left.

And just outside the conference room at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, which is in view of the Port of Long Beach, chamber representatives manned a booth with detailed information highlighting the city’s logistics infrastructure and a six-foot popup of Elvis.

“We were able to communicate the Memphis message to literally thousands of people,” said Mark Herbison, senior vice president of economic development at the chamber. “We were really able to get the word out about Memphis.”

With a massive increase in its budget for economic development efforts, the chamber plans on delivering the “Memphis message” to more corporate decision makers than ever before.

The chamber has increased funding for primary economic development efforts – marketing Memphis to new and existing businesses in the hopes of landing a relocation or expansion – by 228 percent.

“That’s what our leadership and our membership wants us to do, focus on economic development,” said Dexter Muller, interim president of the chamber. “The only way you really increase the number of prospects is by beating the bushes and generating more people who are thinking about Memphis.”

The economic development funding surge began when the chamber initiated its annual budget process.

“When we started our budget process this year, our leadership said to look at every thing from scratch, and what we realized is that we really needed to step up if we were going to create more jobs and economic investment,” Muller said. “We went through with a fine-toothed comb every position, everything we spent money on, and we moved money from administration to economic development.”

The sharp increase in economic development funding is allowing the organization to take the city’s most effective boosters – chamber members who own and operate companies here – across the country in what amounts to a traveling road show on the benefits of doing business in Memphis and Shelby County.

Before the Long Beach conference, chamber members and staff attended the Site Selectors Guild conference in Denver. While the audience was a little different, the mission remained the same.

“What we’re trying to do is move toward a more member-driven organization,” Muller said. “Being member-driven doesn’t mean we just go to these conferences and events with staff. Some of our best salespeople are our leaders in business and it’s having our business leaders help tell our story.”

Herbison said it’s impossible to overstate the importance of letting local business officials lead the way in selling Memphis to the rest of the world.

“It’s so important because they’re actually doing business here and they can explain why they’re in Memphis,” he said. “A lot of times corporate executives want to talk with other corporate executives. I’m paid to promote Memphis and sometimes there’s a higher level of trust when they can talk with other corporate executives.”

The ramped-up economic development campaign is producing some interesting events.

In April, chamber officials, along with members of the Chairman’s Circle, which consists of 100 of the city’s most prominent business executives, and the Regional Logistics Council will be in Los Angeles to have one-on-one meetings with the area’s top site selection consultants in what amounts to a reverse “Red Carpet Tour,” the annual event where the chamber invites business recruitment industry executives to Memphis.

They’ll also be renting a suite at the Staple Center for the Memphis Grizzlies-Los Angeles Lakers game, pitching Memphis to officials during some “Grit-N-Grind” basketball.

“Generally, when they’ve experienced your hospitality they’re willing to sit down and get an update on what is going on in the city,” Muller said.