VOL. 131 | NO. 143 | Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Advance Memphis Aims to Provide Workers Economic Sustainability
By Madeline Faber
“I’m always thinking about things through an economic lens,” said Steve Nash, executive director of Advance Memphis, at a recent tour of the nonprofit’s new location at 575 Suzette St.
The 24,000-square-foot warehouse is less than half a mile away from where Advance Memphis opened its doors over a decade ago at 769 Vance Ave. with the goal of uplifting residents of the impoverished 38126 ZIP code.
On any given day, multiple classes are taking place at the Advance Memphis headquarters. There are high school equivalency and GED courses, classes in finance and the sought-after Work Life class, a soft skills certification granted to about 100 adults per year.
Graduates of the Work Life class qualify for job assistance and placement through Advance Memphis’ staffing program.
The whirr of activity at the new warehouse takes on a different rhythm. Instead of taking notes, adults participating in Advance Memphis programs are operating machine tools and forklifts as part of the nonprofit’s vocational skills training.
“It (the warehouse) allows us for the first time to venture into hard skills,” Nash said.
The warehouse brings together strategic tenants as well as local and national manufacturing and advanced training to help the Advance Memphis organization and the individuals it serves achieve economic sustainability.
Nash said the warehouse will help close the gap between Advance Memphis’ staffing service and the permanent jobs that require higher-skilled training. With hard equipment in-house, Nash can both train and coach Work Life graduates.
“We have the equipment right here,” he said. “The forklift, everything. If somebody’s having a problem at work, we can coach them on how to work through it.”
Companies like Wepfer Marine and the CyberYard have sought out Work Life graduates for permanent positions. With the warehouse, Nash said that he can create even more jobs solely through the Advance Memphis organization.
Companies can solicit Advance Memphis’ warehouse and existing workforce to outsource their light manufacturing and packaging needs. Nash said he’s already working with National Guard Products and Mitsubishi, and he could handle more contracts that deal with labeling, packing, kitting, re-packing, sorting and assembly.
“I’m really trying to grow this,” he said.
Local companies and tenants are also making use of the warehouse. Lakeland-based Cutie Clips hires Work Life graduates to assemble pacifiers for sale. Local artist Terry Lynn is renting space at the warehouse for a studio. Lynn’s needs as an artist complement the warehouse’s fledgling frame shop, Nash said. Lynn can use the warehouse’s equipment to produce frames for his art and employ Work Life graduates who are being trained in framing.
Heading up the framing classes is John Churchill, vice president of business services with the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce.
“I wanted to fit into the puzzle Steve’s putting together,” Churchill said. “He takes a holistic view. When you learn for the purposes of self-improvement, it awakens a spirit of self-transformation that goes beyond getting a job.”
Nash said that he’s focused on securing strategic tenants, or those can fulfill Advance Memphis’ ongoing work in bringing residents of the 38126 ZIP code to economic self-sufficiency.
Local food systems nonprofit Memphis Tilth fit the bill. Memphis Tilth is a new organization that bundles four existing nonprofits including Grow Memphis, Bring It Food Hub, Urban Farms-Memphis and the Memphis Center for Food and Faith.
In the warehouse, Memphis Tilth occupies a 4,200-square-foot tenant space that opens up to a loading dock where farmers will drop off produce to be redistributed as CSAs, or community-supported agriculture.
Melissa Dison, operations manager with Memphis Tilth, said that she’s seeking Work Life graduates to assemble the CSAs and work as delivery drivers. Memphis Tilth will also work with neighborhood residents at Advance Memphis’ commercial kitchen and nearby community garden.
With the Advance Memphis warehouse, Nash said that he’s investing in an economic system that will support the nonprofit’s ongoing work and bring more opportunities to the community he serves.
“The longer you remain, the organization and the individual get heartier and have time to unload roots,” he said. “Now, we’re seeing in what direction we can grow.”