More for Memphis plan identifies liberty and equity as Economic Development priorities

Over the next several months, the High Ground Team will be diving deep into the More for Memphis plan: What it is, why it is, and where it's taking us. This week, we take a look at Economic Development, one of the 6 focus areas critical to the initiative's success.
A “liberated, equitable Memphis, mane.” While the delivery is lighthearted, the goal is heavy and aligns with the vision of the More For Memphis (MFM) plan.

According to data taken directly from the MFM plan, only 3.6% of Shelby County residents with low-income parents reach the top 20% of household incomes by age 35. Only 1.9% of Black residents with low-income parents reach the top 20% of household income by age 35, compared with 11.5% of white residents. 

The MFM plan aims to show that its plan not only breaks down the problems but also accounts for the challenges that come with fixing the problems. The plan identifies economic mobility as a critical problem, citing Memphis as one of the lowest-ranked cities in the U.S. for resident income growth over time. To hone in on this problem, MFM added Economic Development as one of its six collaboratives.

“If you think about this plan holistically, our work is really around income and wealth generation,” explained Sarah Lockridge-Steckel, one of the Economic Development collaborative’s participants. “How do we tackle those things? Through an economic perspective, but the alignment between all these areas is really critical as well.” 

Lockridge-Steckel is co-founder and CEO of The Collective Blueprint which works to increase socio-economic mobility for young local adults and nurses by building pathways to thriving careers.
Sarah Lockridge-Steckel.
Over the course of five years, MFM aims to put 10,000 additional young people on a path to economic mobility. MFM's Economic Development collaborative prioritized three focus areas for achieving this goal: Workforce Development, Business Attraction/Retention & Growth, and Social Services.

Priming for opportunity

Consistent with the approach of the MFM plan, the collaborative prioritized people first. Its section of the plan begins with a call to identify residents for a talent pipeline.

Lockridge-Steckel noted that the goal is to create vibrant and thriving businesses at every level, from small businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities to startups and larger-scale businesses. She asks, “How do we really ensure that we have the jobs that we need so that people can earn living wages?”

Two of the collaborative’s key impact metrics are increasing the number of Memphians receiving skills training and placing those skilled prospects in high-wage jobs.

The collaborative believes that training and placement are just one side of a two-sided coin. Workplace guidelines are the other side of the coin. The collaborative noted health and safety as promises that employers must make and be held accountable for sustained economic development.

Encouraging healthy competition

With a talent pipeline, Memphis would be better positioned to achieve the collaborative’s next priority which is cultivating a high-growth job market. 

In September 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Software Publishers, Computing Infrastructure Providers, and Wireless Telecommunications Carriers as the top three industries with the fastest-growing output. The collaborative outlines attracting and retaining businesses in these high-growth industries as a key component for scaling businesses in Memphis.

“Economic development is really thinking about creating an economy where everyone can participate and everyone can earn what they need to earn to take care of their families and to have stability in our community,” said Lockridge-Steckel.

In order to serve Memphis’ Black and Brown residents, the collaborative suggests proactive identification of and investment in sites for current and future businesses in the neighborhoods the residents live in. 

While the collaborative aims to bring new business, it also aims to bolster local businesses, particularly those owned by Black and Brown entrepreneurs. The plan details support and training for entrepreneurs to create co-op-led businesses and compete in a high-growth job market. 

Future-proofing the plan

“We know that to get to a career, it takes a lot,” said Lockridge-Steckel. “People need access to transit solutions, child care, and mental health services so that they can participate in the kinds of opportunities that we're talking about.”

Sustainability was the final priority detailed by the collaborative as new talent and jobs will bring the need for infrastructure. The MFM plan describes it as a marketplace where access to capital, incentives, mentorship, and learning is continuous.

“The ongoing focus of this work is to develop strategies which best leverage a strong collective for meaningful impacts,” explained another collaborative participant, Julie Sanon who is the Chief of Strategy and Innovations Officer at Agape Child & Family Services. “Agape is honored to be counted among a number of community resource partners involved.”

Other partners in the collaborative include United Way of the Mid-South, Urban Strategies Inc., Start Co., CodeCrew, and Tech901.

The collaborative recommends a backbone agency to facilitate efficiency and learning based on a cross-program approach. The goal of the agency would be to continue expanding social support to meet the needs of community members while increasing the level of investment in Memphis’ economy and its local businesses.

“Having worked in collaborations and partnership engagements for decades, often the greatest of challenges is in partner engagement,” said Sanon. “How do we learn to work together for a shared outcome? How do we trust the process? As it regards this effort, it is about maintaining a pulse of all stakeholders. And, as economic development is a much broader context, it is also about being attuned to trends and intel from a national level as well as state and local.”

Lockridge-Steckel added, “It's an amazing opportunity to get more resources, but it's also hard to expand and to implement this kind of work and to be thoughtful. How do we really design or do whatever we're doing in partnership with the people who will be impacted by this work? I think thoughtfulness, community partnership, and accountability are all important pieces for where we're going.”
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Read more articles by Ashlei Williams.

Memphis native Ashlei Williams has been writing for business, philanthropic, minority and academic audiences for a decade. She earned her master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School and bachelor’s in English from Spelman College. In 2016, she started GJC Publicity, focusing on editorial, marketing, advertising and creative writing. Get in touch with her at [email protected].