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VOL. 133 | NO. 109 | Thursday, May 31, 2018

Minority Business Growth Aim of 'The 800 Initiative'

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is proposing $500,000 in city funding each of the next three fiscal years to help fund a new initiative to bolster the city’s 800 minority-owned businesses that have paid employees.

The funding proposed to start with the next fiscal year on July 1 is in addition to $1 million FedEx Corp. has pledged to the “800 initiative” over the next four years, it was announced Tuesday, May 29.

Jim Strickland

“We must do everything we can to empower small businesses,” Strickland said during the announcement at the Universal Life Insurance building. “And for us that has a direct impact on generational poverty. To achieve true equity in our economy, we know we must do everything that we can to empower minority-owned businesses.”

While city government has set a goal of improving the percentage of city contracts to minority businesses, Strickland said the 800 initiative is also about improving the 1 percent share of business-to-business receipts that go annually to black-owned businesses in a city that is 67 percent African-American by the latest U.S. Census figures.

“That is not sustainable,” Strickland said of the receipts percentage. “The true key to turning that around is to empower minority business.”

The 800 initiative plans to do that with “frontline programing designed to grow the capacity and the capability of minority businesses in our city,” he said.

“It will involve technical assistance, coaching, loans, grants, sort of our Propel program which we launched several years ago but on a much greater scale,” Strickland said of the business accelerator program.

Andrew Fowlkes

Propel is part of Start Co., the venture development group and business accelerator.

Start Co. president Andre Fowlkes said the 800 businesses have a payroll of some kind. That’s out of an estimated 39,800 minority businesses in the city – the vast majority of them one-person businesses or businesses that rely on contractors for a workforce.

“Only 800 of them have paid employees,” Fowlkes said. “The others have 1099 contractors etcetera. That 800 is averaging about $686,000 in sales receipts. Our goal is to grow that number in revenue and in total income.”

The specific goal is a $50 million increase in annual revenue by 2023.

“We want this to last after the current mayor’s administration,” Fowlkes said.

EPIcenter, the nonprofit business development organization, will also be offering assistance to the 800 businesses.

Christian Brothers University will offer training, said CBU president John Smarrelli.

“Where if an owner does not have the training and business skills, we will provide that sort of training,” he said. “If the owner needs another advance degree, MBA-type opportunities, CBU will provide that. We’ll be sort of the home of where the program will be. We don’t want it to be part of the politics of government. We really want to house the program and improvise the training that’s required.”

The program will also operate out of the city’s Office of Business Diversity and Compliance at the Universal Life building, said Joann Massey, director of the office. She said the larger goal is that “all business owners have a seat at the table.”

The 800 initiative is one of several new directions Strickland has taken in just over half of his current four-year term of office. He also is creating a full-time position in his administration for someone to take on negotiations that city chief operating officer Doug McGowen has undertaken in seeking compromises on such issues as Memphis Zoo parking and the pursuit of economic development projects like the second Amazon headquarters.

Whoever fills the position would report to McGowen.

Strickland also told the Memphis Rotary Club earlier this month that the city’s garbage collection system is “broken” when it comes to picking up “what’s not in the can.” Strickland talked of changing the city’s 21-day period for picking up yard waste once it is put curbside.

And Strickland said he is exploring how to move forward on assembling land for economic development projects, saying the city is “running out of land” for distribution and logistics projects.

PROPERTY SALES 0 151 1,493
MORTGAGES 0 105 1,152