Madison Heights

Hire Local 901 helps Memphians work closer to home

Madison Heights is an emerging Memphis neighborhood with some big advantages — thriving small businesses, throngs of commuters and charming architecture and trolley buses that feel like a step back in time. The neighborhood is also considered a consistent poverty tract according to the U.S. Census, and many of its residents lack personal transportation, are under- or unemployed and in need of jobs nearby.

Fortunately, Madison Heights is at the eastern edge of the Medical District in close proximity to Memphis' major medical institutions and the employment opportunities they provide.

Hire Local 901 is working to leverage the Medical District's employment power and act as a connector for potential employers and Memphians looking for work. The program facilitates placements and connects people with education and training opportunities in healthcare. 

Though it's still in its infancy, Hire Local already has 100 job commitments from employers and 50 applicants.

“The goal of this program is to try to reduce barriers so we have more people that are living in the district and around the district successfully working in jobs in the district,” said Latasha Harris, program director for Hire Local 901.

The Memphis Medical District Collaborative, the Medical District's community and economic development organization, launched Hire Local in June 2018. Hire Local also includes seven anchor institutions offering healthcare-related employment opportunities and two workforce development providers, who help with placement and training.

“Madison Heights is in the heart of [Hire Local's] territory. Madison Heights is also in very close proximity to two of our anchors that both participate in the program,” said Vonesha Mitchell, MMDC's community development program manager in reference to Southern College of Optometry & Methodist University Hospital.

A map of Hire Local 901's target ZIP codes includes Binghampton, Downtown, the Medical District, Midtown, Mud Island, North Memphis, Orange Mound, South Memphis and Uptown. (Submitted)But Hire Local isn't solely focused on the Medical District and its 100,000 residents. Hire Local is also targeting eight ZIP codes surrounding the district — 38103, 38104, 38105, 38106, 38107, 38112, 38114 and 38126.

Together they represent most of Binghampton, Downtown, Midtown, Mud Island, North Memphis, Orange Mound, South Memphis and Uptown. 

“We recognize that there are ZIP codes around the district where there is lots of poverty, where there are lots of folks that are unemployed or underemployed. With the scope of Hire Local we didn’t want to just narrow in on the Medical District,” said Harris.

Year One

MMDC's Hire Local team has spent most of its first year planning, structuring the program and securing employment commitments from anchor institutions.  

The participating employers are St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Methodist University Hospital, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Regional One Health, The University of Tennessee Health Science Center as well as Southwest Tennessee Community College, Baptist College of Health Sciences and Southern College of Optometry.

The also spent time working with the anchors' recruiting officers and human resource personnel to gauge the types of jobs available. Many of the jobs, including nursing and medical assistants, require some training and certification but not a four-year degree. Information technology jobs are also available. 

Entry-level positions are currently the mainstay of the program but the partners hope they create pathways into the healthcare field that allow employees to advance through on-the-job training or continuing education.

“Healthcare is booming and it is going to continue to boom over at least the next five years. We want folks to know that there are lots of career opportunities,” said Harris.

In addition to employers, workforce development partners Urban Strategies and The Collective have helped identify job candidates. Both organizations have ready-to-hire workers trained as medical assistants.

“Both of those organizations already have pipelines of candidates that they are working with to build skills and help them go back to school," said Harris. "They have folks who are ready to work, some of whom are coming out of the medical assistant and other similar programs that would be really great candidates to fill those entry level roles within the hospital."


Their first placement was 35-year-old Latasha Hartwell, a South Memphis resident and single mother of four.

A certified medical assistant, Hartwell lost her clinic job in 2016 following a heart attack. Out of the field for three years, she considered leaving Memphis to find work. She was connected to Hire Local by Urban Strategies, one of Hire Local's workforce development partners.

“I interviewed with Regional One and got a call back from them in February, a week before I got ready to move out of Tennessee. I ended up taking a position with Regional One,” said Harris.

She is now employed as a medical assistant at a Regional One Health clinic. 

“This program gives people hope. I have the education and the skills. I have years of experience. And yet, I couldn’t get anywhere in Memphis," said Harwell. "But then I got the call [from Hire Local] and it was like, ‘Don’t give up, there’s hope here.'"

Next Steps

Hire Local's next steps involve working closely with partners to forecast future hiring needed and working on outreach efforts in the focus ZIP codes to alert residents to career opportunities. In July, Hire Local will launch a marketing campaign in the target ZIP codes to drive traffic to the program's online portal.

“I was born and raised in South Memphis, in 38126," said Harwell. "A lot of us don’t know that there are things we could be doing ... to work better, to live better. This program can help be a guide. What Hire Local is doing, targeting ZIP codes — these are low-income, high-poverty areas, and people here haven’t had the help to guide them and lead them into these opportunities."
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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.