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City's largest investment in public art honors 1968 sanitation workers' strike

One of Memphis’ significant civil rights events will be commemorated with a public plaza.

The City of Memphis and the UrbanArt Commission seek an artist to create a public art installation for the city’s I Am a Man Plaza project. The plaza site is located adjacent to Clayborn Temple, which was a central location for the 1968 sanitation workers' strike.

The sanitation workers' strike protested discrimination within the city government and dangerous working conditions that led to the death of two black sanitation workers. This strike drew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis to help lead the workers’ efforts. It was during this time that the rallying cry “I am a Man” was coined. During this trip to Memphis, King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

“We are hopeful to see some really passionate responses from artists who want to lend their hand to this space,” UAC executive director Lauren Kennedy said.

She added that the selection committee wants the plaza to be, “a space for peaceful protest and positive change moving forward.”

“We need these spaces today as they were needed 50 years ago and this installation will set the stage for that reflection and gathering,” she said.

The city hopes to commemorate King’s legacy on the 50th anniversary of his death in April 2018 with the opening of the plaza, which Kennedy says is the largest investment by the city in public art to date.

The project budget will be $700,00 with up to three finalists receiving an honorarium of $1,500. The three finalists will be notified March 25 after the artists submit a final proposal. The chosen artist will be commissioned in late May.

“I believe that it is incredibly important for the city to invest in our public spaces and to make art accessible outside of traditional museum and gallery situations,” said Kennedy.


Start Co. encourages veterans to be entrepreneurs

An entrepreneurship tour for veterans is on its way to Memphis thanks to Bunker Labs. The goal of the tour is to connect 1,000 military entrepreneurs to resources in their region throughout 2017.

Bunker Labs is a nonprofit founded by veterans that provides educational programming, mentors, events, and thriving local networks to help military veterans start and grow businesses.

“Our MSA is home to a military base with many veterans retiring and entering the workforce from it and other services,” said Start Co. founder and CEO Eric Mathews. “For many of these veterans who have led others around the world building a business is a natural option to enter civilian business life.”

The Memphis tour stop will be on March 25 at Start Co.’s Downtown office building. Veterans are invited to attend for an introduction to entrepreneurship workshop during the day to learn about creating a one-page business model, developing customer messaging and locating each military entrepreneur’s strengths.

The day will conclude with a reception which is open to the public.

“Both and Bunker Labs and Start Co. want to roll up our sleeves and reach veterans in the Mid-South area and start them on the pathway to building a new venture,” Mathews said.

“At Start Co. as the local venture development organization for technology ventures, we were eager to partner with Bunker Labs to identify local veterans from all services and help them get a boost in starting their business.”

Mathews believes this is the first program of its kind to occur in the Memphis area and he hopes that with strong interest from veterans looking to launch businesses and others looking to help, there will be other programs like this occurring in the region.

“We are hopeful this is just the beginning,” Mathews said.


University of Memphis launches mental health clinic for veterans

The University of Memphis is planning a new outpatient clinic for veterans within its Psychological Services Center.

The Veterans Care Center’s focus will offer treatment strategies for coping with conditions often faced by veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and anxiety. In addition to treatment, the VCC will facilitate research to develop new therapies.

U of M said in its March 7 announcement that the VCC will allow for greater continuity of care for veterans and could meet the specific needs of veterans by offering training and consultation for mental health care providers "who seek to understand, assess and treat the mental, emotional and behavioral wounds of war."

The VCC will collaborate with the Shelby County Veterans Court to provide psychological assessment and treatments as well as work with the U of M's Veterans Resource Center for consultation.

"The U of M is taking great strides toward providing a campus community that is inclusive and welcoming for our military veterans from the general Memphis community," said Dr. Jim Whelan, director of the Psychological Services Center.

 "This facility is another crucial step toward ensuring that we are equipped to meet the needs of our servicemen and women."

The university said the VCC will provide mental health care to veterans "regardless of era, gender, discharge status or service connection” as well as offer services to military and veteran families.


Memphis economy examined through lens of U of M, EDGE partnership

The Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis along with the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County, have partnered to develop a data warehouse, web portal, and editorial content for local economic research.

“Our partnership with the University of Memphis will create new understanding and ultimately, new opportunity,” said Reid Dulberger, EDGE president and CEO of the economic development entity that is responsible for approving tax incentive packages and supervising the city’s goals for minority and women-owned small business contracts.

“As economic developers, we need to understand the forces that impact our economy and how we are performing over time and as compared to peer communities.

The research team at the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research will provide an unbiased, fact-based, academic perspective of the Memphis economy which will generate unique insights into the challenges and opportunities within the marketplace.”

The Sparks Bureau has been conducting multidisciplinary research at the University of Memphis since 1963. The department provides training services for state and local government. The partnership's findings, which are consolidated online, track key economic indicators such as employment, demographics and talent.

 “The purpose of this endeavor is to provide curated data that describes the Memphis and Shelby County MSA’s economic condition and provides comparisons to peer metros throughout the country.” said Dr. John Gnuschke, Director, Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research

Gnuschke hopes that expert information about the regional economy can be a barometer that will help city officials, business leaders, and the community-at-large better understand the Memphis’ economic situation and the impact that has on the city. The research team will publish its findings online quarterly at www.thememphiseconomy.com.


Jonathan Kiersky returns to his roots at Growlers

Whoever said “you can’t go home again” clearly never met Jonathan Kiersky. 

Kiersky, the 39-year-old entrepreneur and Memphis music patron, is still perhaps best known as the owner/operator of the local music venue the Hi-Tone from 2007 to 2014. 

Under his guidance, the club enjoyed arguably its greatest period of success.  Most notably, he oversaw the club’s relocation from 1911 Poplar, across from Overton Park, to its current Crosstown location at 412 N. Cleveland, where it continues to flourish under new ownership. 

Kiersky said his decision to sell the Hi-Tone in 2014 was based purely on exhaustion, both mental and physical.

“I was working 100 hour weeks for eight years and I needed a break, so I took a couple years of semi-retirement,” he said.  “I'm always glad to see it thrive. Both myself and my employees put everything we had into the business. We loved it and we did a great job but when you put that much of yourself into a project you need a break.”

During his “semi-retirement,” Kiersky traveled a lot, spent time with family and generally re-charged his batteries.
But in 2016, a confluence of circumstances led him to return to Memphis.

“I came back to Memphis to get ankle surgery and my dog needed his normal vet,” Kiersky said.  “Then I got a call from the owner of the Buccaneer asking me to take that over, and I just kind of stayed.”

Kiersky’s stint at the Buccaneer Lounge proved to be short and somewhat tumultuous, but it was enough to whet his appetite to re-engage in the Memphis music scene.  When the offer came to take over the newly re-branded Growlers, located in the original Hi-Tone space at 1911 Poplar, it ultimately proved too tempting to refuse.

“It came about drunkenly, to be honest,” said Kiersky.  

“I went up there to watch football with my friend, and Tony Westmoreland (Growlers owner) wouldn't leave me alone about coming to work there. I was looking at different offers but he was pretty adamant and one of the great qualities about Tony is that when he sets his mind to something, he does it. I really liked that about him, and his vision was the same as mine.

Finally, I got over the fact that I said I'd never work in that building again, and said yes. It's been an amazing experience so far and we haven't even scratched the surface of what we are about to do.”

Kiersky, who is now the co-general manager as well as a minority partner in the business, said his strategy will be to focus on booking homegrown Memphis talent at Growlers to build an audience.

“Locals will always be the focal point. As I've said to pretty much everyone, Memphis has the finest local talent pool in the world. Hands down. I've lived many places and it's not even close.”

Volunteer Odyssey launches Memphis-wide volunteer management system

Local volunteer hub Volunteer Odyssey has launched a new volunteer management system. The organization hopes the platform, which matches seekers with opportunities at local nonprofits, will mobilize more individuals and corporations in Memphis to volunteer.
 
“While Memphis ranks high in per capita financial giving, our volunteer hours are lamentably low compared to other cities in the U.S.” said Dr. Sarah Petschonek, founder and CEO of Volunteer Odyssey.
 
“This system is an easy way for individuals to find volunteer opportunities that match their skills and interests, nonprofits to recruit volunteers and businesses to manage volunteer programs.”
 
VolunteerCompass
is free for individual volunteers and nonprofits. Petschonek said the platform will be a useful tool for individuals, nonprofits and companies.
 
The platform allows individuals to search for volunteer opportunities with vetted nonprofit organizations by cause, skill, date or age group. Non-profit organizations are equipped with a dashboard that provides volunteer metrics and connects the organization to Volunteer Odyssey’s database of individual volunteers.
 
Corporate users have the capability to track participating employees and hours volunteered in real time and volunteer reports can be downloaded instantly from the system.
 
While Volunteer Odyssey hopes to expand the platform over time, Petschonek says their goal is to have 60 nonprofits represented and 30,000 volunteer hours logged by the end of 2017.
 
Ten nonprofit partners are already participating in the platform: Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, Clean Memphis, Memphis Botanic Garden, Porter Leath, Make-A-Wish Mid-South, Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, The Dorothy Day House, and The Giving Hour.
 
In addition to nonprofit partners, Volunteer Odyssey is also onboarding Orion Federal Credit Union as the first corporate partner to use the system. Orion will use this platform to manage employee volunteer hours and track their impact in the community. 

“A big part of being an employee at Orion is volunteering, and we’ve spent a great deal of organizational energy in the past arranging, communicating, tracking and reporting our employees’ volunteer efforts,” said Daniel Weicken, CEO of Orion Federal Credit Union.
 
“The potential this platform has to streamline that process for us is huge and we were very excited when Dr. Petschonek invited us to be part of its launch.” 

The "birthplace of rock and roll" braces for federal cuts to arts funding

In 2011, Memphis’ South Main ArtSpace Lofts project received a $100,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The affordable housing development has since leveraged 18 million dollars in private and public money for artist live-work space on South Main.
 
The NEA’s support for other Memphis projects and organizations, such as the Tennessee Arts Commission, could be in jeopardy under the Trump administration.
 
“The arts are part of our DNA as a city,” said ArtsMemphis president and CEO, Elizabeth Rouse.
 
The NEA, which is the largest funder of nonprofit arts in the country, and other public art organizations like The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, support the arts through projects like ArtSpace across the country.
 
The White House budget office drafted a list that recommended President Trump’s first budget eliminate NEA, the NEH and the CPB. With these organizations on the chopping block, the Memphis art community rallied at Memphis Made Brewing February 20 to petition elected officials to protect the arts.


 
“(The arts) are an economic driver, they improve our quality of life and, most importantly, they transform lives. When you think about all of the arts organizations doing work in Memphis— whether it’s through arts education, after school programs or work in neighborhoods— the arts are represented all across the city and involve all types of people,” Rouse said.
 
Arts organizations make up a relatively small part of federal expenditures. Last year, the NEA’s budget was $148 million which is only 0.004 percent of the federal budget.
 
Jeff Kollath, executive director of the Stax Museum for American Soul Music believes that what is lost in this conversation is that the arts generate more revenue in the economy than they cost the government.
 
“(The arts) are a huge economic driver and that one of the best things about Memphis,” Kollath said.
 
“ArtsMemphis and other partner organizations have collected all of this data that shows how much spending is generated from the arts. The statistic is that a person spends over $24 when they go an arts event beyond the cost of their ticket,” Kollah added. “I think what elected representatives fail to see is how that money goes and affects people directly in their districts.”
 

 As evidenced from the ArtsSpace project, Rouse said that federal grants are vital for leveraging additional arts funding.
 
“(Public arts funding) is a small part of the budget, but it also goes a long way. One of the most important reasons for federal funding is to leverage other dollars from private support and pools of public money.”
 
At the Feb. 20 event attendees wrote postcards to state elected officials and sent messages on social media advocating for arts funding just days after groups in Nashville and Chattanooga held similar events.
 
Lauren Moscato, an arts supporter who works at the box office of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, wrote postcards at the event to show her support for federal arts funding. Hers is one of 48,851 arts-related jobs in Tennessee.
 
Moscato said the most important aspect of the arts in Memphis is the unity and community it provides.


 
“We need to continue the arts and carry on the message that arts are an important part of any community,” Moscato said.
 
“I’ve seen personally the growth in the arts in Memphis and the way that it unites people. I think music is universal and that’s why its continued to grow. It’s important for the next generation to appreciate it as well.”
 
Although cutting the arts has been described as an issue of fiscal responsibility, Kollath said he believes that is not the driving factor.
 
“The arts have always been political in nature,” said Kollath.
 
“But another reason why we get into the arts is because of the idea that there are no wrong answers. It’s exciting to push boundaries and to question things and question authority. Frankly, I think that makes people nervous sometimes.”
 
Rouse says they expect a first draft of the president’s budget next week and they hope that their work to lobby elected officials will build a foundation of support.
 
“We’re bringing people together to ask why does the arts matter to each of us as individuals and why do they matter to Memphis, Tennessee and why do they matter to the country? This is a way for us to proactive. It’s to get these stories together and showcase that federal support of the arts is important so that we will be ready if the arts are cut or eliminated from the budget.”

Memphis public transit is underfunded compared with peer cities, research shows

Declining financial support of the Memphis Area Transit Authority and a 40-year trend of development sprawling away from the city core has created a challenge for public transportation in Memphis.

To galvanize support for an alternate solution, Innovate Memphis released a white paper titled “Transit Funding: Memphis Deserves Great Transit,” that the organization hopes will build demand to increase Memphis area transit with funding that will stabilize and expand transit service.

It outlines MATA’s existing funding and a plan to expand Memphis’ public transportation infrastructure with a fare card system, more buses and bus stops as well as additional capital funds.

Innovate Memphis and several partners including Livable Memphis and the Greater Memphis Chamber as well as members of the business community convened the Transit Funding Working Group in late 2015 to identify additional sources of dedicated public funding.
 
The group’s goal is to increase transportation options and mobility with specific focus on improving reliable transit to jobs.  They seek to increase funding for MATA by $30 million annually.
 
“Improving and reimagining transit is one of the key decisions for Memphis’ future to increase the prosperity and health of its residents, as well as create a successful, livable Memphis,” said Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager for Innovate Memphis.

“We can’t get there without funding public transit.”
 
According to Innovate Memphis’ research, Memphis is dramatically underfunded in comparison to Nashville, Louisville, Ky. and Charlotte, N.C.
 
MATA has no dedicated funding source and year and relies on elected officials and grant makers for funding which leaves its financial situation precarious from year. It has faced declining support, service cuts and maintenance issues in recent years.
 
Innovate Memphis reports that MATA operates on $84 per capita a year, whereas peer cities spend as much as $145.
 
The result, the paper stipulates, is that Memphis has created a dependence on cars. A small amount of Memphians, only 2.2 percent, take public transit to work compared to 7.1 percent for the largest 100 U.S. metropolitan areas. Memphis ranks 41 of 42 among large urban areas for transit use per capita.
 
According to MATA’s chief communications officer Nicole Lacey, MATA has the opportunity to be equal to, or better, than our peer cities, but says it starts with a unified effort from the community to support its growth.
 
“At MATA, one of our major goals for 2017 is to consistently and diligently show the public and our customers that we are committed to positive transformation,” Lacey said. “From Frayser to FedEx, from South Main to South Parkway and throughout many other neighborhoods in-between, MATA is committed to being there for every Memphian.
 
The white paper as well as a public survey to help provide insight into how people use public transit and other transit options in Memphis and Shelby County is available at http://www.yesmemphistransit.com/.

Senators Harris and Kelsey file legislation to protect Memphis sands aquifer

A bipartisan effort in underway to protect the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which provides Memphis drinking water. Last December, the Shelby County Groundwater Quality Control Board approved the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to pump 3.5 million gallons per day from it to cool a new natural gas plant. This was despite a resistance led by the Sierra Club who warns that the massive withdrawal TVA needs to cool its natural gas plant could contaminate the aquifer water.
 
State Senators Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Lee Harris (D-Memphis) filed legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to set up a Memphis sands aquifer regional development board to protect water supplies in West Tennessee.
 
Senate Bill 776 also requires board approval to pump more than 10,000 gallons of water from the aquifer to ensure its long-term viability. It is sponsored by Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) and Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) in the House of Representatives.
 
“We want to make sure that the aquifer is preserved for future generations,” said Harris.
 
“That means we need to be careful with respect to the precedents we set today, since those precedents have a funny way to leading to negative consequences later. Because this aquifer is so special, we also want to do what we can to make sure that the public knows what’s happening with it and how it’s being utilized.”
 
This board would have full power to manage and preserve the aquifer. The nine-member board would be comprised of the mayors of Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette counties, which represents the area above where the aquifer flows. The governor would appoint the remaining members with two from the agricultural community, two from commerce and two from the environmental research community.
 
“This board would also help ensure that the flow of rain and water into the aquifer prevents pollution and waste,” Kelsey added. “I believe this legislation provides a well-balanced approach to ensure the aquifer is protected for many years to come.”
 
In addition, Senators Harris and Kelsey have filed a separate bill, Senate Bill 886, which requires anyone planning to drill a well to give at least 14 days advance notice to the state commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation with the notice published on department’s website.
 
“Clean drinking water is very important to our citizens and our future,” said Kelsey. “This legislation aims to ensure the aquifer remains a clean and reliable source for future generations.”

Women underrepresented in engineering celebrate local efforts to close the gap

The Memphis chapter of the Society of Women Engineers is hosting its first public event after receiving its charter in April 2016.

The Society of Women Engineers is an international organization that provides opportunities and resources for women in engineering, including scholarships for students, STEM outreach for K-12 girls, professional development events and public policy advocacy.

The Memphis chapter was founded by 53 local companies and organizations, including Christian Brothers University, City of Memphis, FedEx, Medtronic, Smith and Nephew, University of Memphis, and Wright Medical.

“Being a woman in engineering is both tremendously rewarding by improving the quality of life for millions of people around the world, and at other times, very frustrating,” said Memphis chapter president Dr. Sharon Rozzi.

“Women are underrepresented in engineering leadership despite progress in earning engineering degrees.  Studies have shown that women face obstacles that include gender bias, hostile cultures, shortage of mentors to provide career guidance, and 24/7 work pressures that make balancing home life challenging,” she added.

Per the National Science Foundation, women with college degrees remain underrepresented in Science & Engineering occupations, although less so than in the past. Except in computer/mathematical sciences, women have increased their particiation in each broad occupational group since the early 1990s.  In engineering, women increased their presence in the engineering workforce from 9 percent in 1993 to 13 percent in 2010.

This is as the field of engineering grows overall. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, from 2010 to 2020, employment in Science & Engineering occupations will grow by 18.7 percent compared to 14.3 percent for all occupations.

Rizzo thinks the SWE’s work can help to close that gap and empower women starting from a young age to pursue well-paying STEM fields with good outlooks.
“SWE’s mission is to stimulate women to achieve their full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity,” said Rizzo.
 
The inaugural event, “Celebrate SWE Memphis” is Thursday, February 23, 2017 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Double Tree in East Memphis.
Event speakers include past SWE President Colleen Layman and Medtronic VP of Research & Development Tommy Carls. All proceeds from the event will support SWE’s K-12 STEM outreach and member professional development.

Cynthia Daniels: Five easy ways to support black-owned businesses

 
The following is a guest post by Cynthia Daniels, chief event strategist at Cynthia Daniels & Co. Daniels will join four other Memphis business leaders for "Economic Justice in the City," a speaker event hosted by High Ground News at Clayborn Temple on February 28. Find out more about the free event here.

In a city with the majority is the minority, we tend to leave out a representative portion of our black restaurants and these very restaurants have grown to become hidden treasures.

Memphis Black Restaurant Week aims to counter economic disparity with fun and interactive solutions that engage, excite and ignite a deeper understanding and love of Memphis food culture while encouraging agency in the future of the city.  

This effort provides minority-owned restaurants with marketing opportunities that are otherwise cost restrictive with a goal of promoting Memphis food tourism and multicultural engagement. In 2016, MBRW offered exposure and supported eight black-owned restaurants.

In 2017, Memphis Black Restaurant Week expanded its model to nine cities. This year’s edition, which runs from March 6 to 12, names Sweet Potato Baby, Two Vegan Sistas and The Choo among participating restaurants.
 
Look For Them
It may take some homework to identify black-owned businesses because they are not as abundant in communities. Maybe you have to drive a little further but know that by doing this, you are supporting a black-owned business.

Try Something New
This is a great opportunity for consumers to mix it up and try different products and services they may end up liking even more than those they were used to purchasing from mainstream businesses. Nix the stereotyping and respect black products.

Spread the word on social media
Once you find businesses you like make sure other people know about them. Everyone loves having a secret, favorite local spot, but holding on to that information doesn't bring those businesses any revenue. Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are all great starting places to spread the word about local business you love.

Host events at black-owned businesses
Have a birthday, meeting or special event coming up? Keep a local black business in mind. Not only does this spread awareness, it brings new customers through the door.

Chamber of Commerce
This step will take a little bit of effort but it’s worth it in the end especially if you happen to be a business owner. Your city’s Chamber of Commerce or the National Black Chamber of Commerce can be used to find local business and who owns them. Most Chambers’ membership list can be searched for free. However, if you’d like to join there is usually a fee. The Chamber usually holds meetings and networking events where business owners get together to network and build relationships. Partnerships, business relationships, and referrals are common among members.

Local artisan market to open in the Edge District

The competition is on to see which local retailers and makers will win $2,500 and a spot in the Edge Alley development, which is slated to open this May.
 
The Edge Alley space, adjacent to High Cotton Brewing Co. on Monroe Avenue, will consist of a coffee roaster and coffee bar, a café, and the four retail spaces for local artisans.
 
Tim Barker and Phil Massey, who own the High Cotton space, created the mixed-use coffee shop concept as a way to use square footage unoccupied by the local brewery.  
 
Barker and Massey, who recently used the space for a pop-up art gallery, are interested in promoting flexible spaces and a maker culture in the blossoming Edge District.
 
This development comes as the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, an independent development agency backed by the area’s major medical institutions, advances their goal to increase retail offerings in the neighborhood to make it a more livable environment for professionals, students and residents.
 
“(MMDC’s) goal is to work with the anchor institutions to grow the neighborhood. A big part of that strategy is real estate development and attracting new and growing businesses,” said Abby Miller, MMDC director of programs and data.
 
“This is a really good entry point for makers, businesses and entrepreneurs because it’s a micro space where the makers are benefiting from being together and taking a square footage that is feasible,” she added.

The application for retailers opened February 2 and will close March 10.  Preference will be given to makers who can be ready to move into a small brick-and-mortar space by May 1. Applications forms can be found at edge-alley.com.

Suggested retail categories are clothes, shoes, jewelry, bags, food, furniture and home goods as well as bath and body and skincare and fragrance.

In addition to the $2,500 to spend on their store and offset rental cost, retailers will also receive up to 20 hours of business assistance from MMDC and technical assistance from EPICenter.

“We want a good healthy mix of business,” said Miller.
 
“Anybody who is a maker or entrepreneur is welcome-- whether they want a second location or are just starting out. What’s cool and viable about this project is having that diversity and interest when you walk into the space. It’s that wow factor. We want to see opportunity appeal to broadest community possible. We really want to help.”

New plan uncovers data that supports Memphis' maker economy

In December 2016, Memphis was named the fifth North American “Maker City” by the online marketplace, Etsy.  This was due in large part to the work of The Made By Project, which put in six months of research, mapping exercises, and in-depth interviews of local makers, artisans and micro-entrepreneurs to the aspirations of Memphis’ maker economy.
 
Led by Little Bird, a Memphis-based research, strategy and design firm, The Made By Project announced February 6 that they had released the data from this first-of-its kind quantitative and qualitative survey of more than 300 makers in Memphis and Shelby County.
 
“While many of our makers may not initially think of themselves as part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, this ‘creative class’ of entrepreneurs not only represents viable businesses, but their locally made products represent such an authentic and vibrant part of Memphis,” said Leslie Smith, president of EPIcenter.
 
The Made By Project focuses on tracking entrepreneurs who create and sell physical goods at small scale in one of four sectors: packaged food and beverage; fashion and accessories; home goods; and technology and hardware.

 
The researchers plan to use the results of the survey to develop a data-driven economic development plan that fosters a vibrant, thriving and inclusive community of makers and artisans across the region.
 
Long term, the development plan aims to grow the greater Memphis economy in new areas, specifically in the number of maker enterprises led by women and minorities; the diversity and quality standard of products; the number of micro-entrepreneurs scaling to small- and medium-sized businesses; the demand for skilled worker; and the brand perception of Memphis for creative enterprises.
 
Of the 315 respondents, 68 percent run their businesses on their own, 57 percent identified as part-time and 43 percent identifiedas full-time.
 
Little Bird found that the median age for Memphis’ makers is 40 years old and 74 percent of respondents are women. Seventy-two percent are white, 72 percent are well-educated and 64 percent are married.
 
Implementation of recommendations in the development plan will be led by EPIcenter, a collaborative and community-wide strategic initiative that is helping entrepreneurs conceive, launch and scale businesses in the Memphis region.
 
EPIcenter serves as the strategic hub of the region’s ecosystem and coordinates resources from various organizations in the community such as accelerators, incubators, mentors, investors, networking programs, and technical assistance programs for entrepreneurs.
 
“Many communities are trying to determine how to build infrastructure to support makers and artisans, and we now have the data to really understand how best to serve them here in Shelby County,” said Leslie Smith, president of EPIcenter.
 
The full report can be viewed here

Crosstown Concourse incorporates salvaged and new art in its final touches

As organizations move into Crosstown Concourse and it approaches its May 2017 opening date, artists and contractors are putting the final touches on the $200 million renovation.

The project, originally launched under the direction of Crosstown Arts, has married the art-making into the creation process down to the smallest details.
 
Contractors are using salvaged elements from the building’s original use as Sears, Roebuck & Co. regional distribution center to beckon back to the building’s history.
 
The counter at the main reception desk on the first floor of the 1.5-million-square-foot building showcases tarnished conveyor spindles under a plate of glass. On the second floor, four large, vintage pieces of the original Sears conveyor system, where hundreds of employees received and packaged goods, were left intact in an homage to the building’s former use as a distribution center.
 
These examples are what Crosstown Concourse co-leader Todd Richardson calls “art moments” throughout the building.
 
“There are moments throughout the building where we will either have artists fabricate pieces, or where we’ve reclaimed and reused aspects of the former Sears building and woven them into the design of the renovation in such a way that they honor or point to the building’s history,” Richardson said.
 
Even the smallest details have a rich background. The first piece of Crosstown Concourse that visitors, residents, and workers will touch as they enter the building’s west or central atria is a work of art.
 
Local artist Ben Butler created 16 sets of door handles to adorn the double doors leading into the building’s main entrances. The handles, made from reclaimed maple, feature a silhouette image of the Concourse building designed by Michael Carpenter, partner at local ad agency Loaded for Bear.
 
“This is the first time someone touches the building, so it should be special,” said Butler, who will serve as the wood shop manager for Crosstown Arts’ shared art-making facility. Butler also participated in Crosstown Arts’ artist residency program over the past three months.
 
Butler’s project was the first such “art moment” to be fabricated by a local artist, but Richardson said he envisions opportunities for artists to create murals, lighting design, and sculpture throughout the building once construction is complete.
 
The display of historic artifacts, such as the steel rail lines embedded in concrete in the north plaza where the L&N Railroad once ran, have been worked into the building’s construction, but opportunities for artists to create new works throughout the building will continue beyond the construction phase.

The building, which is Memphis’ most significant renovation project to-date, will also include 45,000-square-feet of contemporary arts gallery and performance space operated by Crosstown Arts.
 

Start Co. launches first cohort of minority-owned businesses

As efforts grow city-wide to invest in minority-owned businesses, Start Co. responded by launching its first accelerator aimed to serve existing minority-owned businesses.
 
The Propel program graduated its first cohort in January. The companies launched include Casey Custom Upholstery, Durham Housing, Fifer & Associates, Fitnexx, The Healthcare Institute, Reflections and West Wing Events.
 
The 12-week program, run in partnership with The City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance, was designed to build capacity and enhance the business models of existing by offering hands-on programming, mentor opportunities and technical resources.
 
To participate in Propel, business owners had to be operating for at least three years, have at least two full-tie employees and earn at least $200,000 in annual revenue. The accelerator participants were paired with more established business leaders as mentors.  
 
Start Co. president Andrew Fowlkes hopes that the entrepreneur service organization can expand Propel to foster a more inclusive business environment and polish businesses that might be eligible for public contracts.
 
“The program was great, and I think we really helped change (the participants’) mindset for future growth and building capacity,” Fowlkes said.
 
“But it really just begins now. And we have to also be very deliberate on being more inclusive in the greater ecosystem.”
 
Start Co. also offers a B2B tach accelerator, Seed Hatchery; an accelerator for women-owned businesses called Upstart; and Sky High, an accelerator for tech companies offering education solutions.
 
Unlike the other accelerators, however, Propel was created specifically for local businesses to create a relationship between the city and minority small business talent. They hope the pilot program can continue and grow after a successful first class of graduates.

“It’s exciting,” Fowlkes said. “We hope it can become an ongoing resource for minority-owned businesses.”
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