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VOL. 130 | NO. 182 | Friday, September 18, 2015

Carolyn Hardy: Productivity Increase Brings Higher Wages

By Bill Dries

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Carolyn Hardy is familiar with the local debate about $10 an hour jobs pursued in economic development campaigns.


The entrepreneur – who bought the old Coors brewery she once worked for, turned it into a bottling plant and then sold it to City Brewing for $31 million in 2011 – has been integrally involved in the rapid scaling up of job training efforts that followed City Brewing’s arrival as well as the Electrolux plant in southwest Memphis.

“I think initially we’ve got to think jobs and then we’ve got to look at investing in training and technology which translates to productivity that justifies higher wages,” Hardy said. “I think we need to hold on that debate for a minute. … We have a good means for advancing from a training standpoint.”

And part of the instruction, Hardy said, should include financial literacy training. Workers can make more in the logistics and manufacturing industry, which currently dominates local economic development efforts, than they can in other retail, food service or other positions.

“I’ve seen people who make $20 an hour and function like they make $8. They have no more money in the bank,” she said. “You don’t need to buy a local car loan that you pay every week. … Financial literacy is associated with lifestyle as well. If we don’t teach financial literacy we are never going to change lifestyle.”

Hardy is the keynote speaker Friday, Sept. 18, at the RISE Foundation’s third annual “Evening of Change” gala at the Hilton Memphis.

The nonprofit foundation, whose name stands for Responsibility, Initiative, Solution and Empowerment, focuses on financial literacy programs and incentives for low-income working Memphians.

“We’re trying to take unemployed, underemployed and train them so they can make a living wage above $15 an hour,” Hardy said. “Wouldn’t it be real power if we also deliver financial literacy? … Now you can show them how to save for a car, save for a home.”

Earlier in the week, Hardy was part of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s “Sound Check” series in which she talked with young professionals about her journey from the brewery to an intermodal depot on Presidents Island to her current role as CEO of Henderson Transloading Services in Hickory Hill.

Henderson loads all kinds of grain as well as soybeans, corn, milo, cottonseed and other products from one form of transportation to another.

“I’m surrounded by 13 million acres of grain and we are in the center of it,” Hardy said of the Mid-South region and how she approached the move into transloading. “It goes out by barge to a lot of areas. But it also goes out by containers. If you are going to do it in containers you are going to do it in Memphis.”

Henderson expanded in the first quarter of this year allowing the company to handle all grains that grow in the region as well as corn, soybeans, milo and wheat.

“You name it, we can handle it,” Hardy said. That includes the specialty bag grain Hardy has had her eye on over a two-year period during which she identified and analyzed markets for that kind of grain.

“That would put me back in manufacturing,” she said. “It is that type of activity that creates a lot of jobs.”

The risk is that what Henderson transloads is a commodity. And commodities are volatile.

“Commodities are impacted by world events,” she said citing China’s recent devaluation of its currency. “That scared everybody so everybody slowed down. Grain sales were the first thing hit.”

But Hardy said her pursuit has been based on careful research and looking to bring something new to the city instead of moving economic development from one part of Memphis to another.

“We don’t just pull out a hat and run and do it,” she added. “We make sure that it does make good business sense and that from a strategy viewpoint, ‘is Memphis the right location – do we have the right raw materials here? Would you choose Memphis over the current production site?’ … It does make sense for Memphis.”

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173