Still more to be done in the city
The city may now be focused on helping its entrepreneurial community grow, but there’s still more work ahead. According to the Department of Labor, the city’s unemployment rate sits at 6.4 percent, much higher than other comparable cities in the area but slightly lower than the 8 percent recorded during the same time last year.
The key to the city’s continued success lies in ensuring that local entrepreneurs have access to reliable funding and growth opportunities. Finding investors or seed money can be difficult for fledgling startups, which is why private enterprises and government funded programs are stepping in to bridge the gap.
“I’m a serial entrepreneur. I had my first business drive-thru hot dog stand in California and built a dozen other companies throughout my career and understand it can be difficult,” says Dudley Boyd, 60, founder and president of accounts receivable firm Enoble.
The entrepreneur’s company recently announced that it would provide $200 million in funding for the city’s startups and entrepreneurs over the next three years. The announcement came shortly after the company unveiled its new $10 million corporate headquarters located in Memphis.
“America is a very entrepreneurial country,” he says, “where anyone could come up with an idea and be rewarded for that. Memphis has some of the best entrepreneurs in the country, and they just needed the resources to make it happen. New funding [programs] from the government and businesses like mine are helping turn that all around.”
The local economy and city’s strategic location—it’s in close proximity to several major transit hubs and seven primary highways—gives it an edge over other Silicon cities.
“Memphis is unique and full of opportunity. There’s FedEx, a huge demand here because of its transportation hubs, Memphis airport, UPS, and barges along the Mississippi River, so Memphis is in a unique position,” says Boyd.
The city also has a growing number of healthy accelerators and incubators that have recently launched, alongside other government funding programs, to entice more entrepreneurs to relocate to Memphis.
Start Co is one of several new initiatives that aim to capitalize on the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. Founded in 2008, the accelerator gives entrepreneurs up to $15,000 to launch their own business, but differs in one big way: It also accepts out-of-town entrepreneurs (some from as far away as Singapore and Hungary) and helps them relocate to the city, thereby injecting more money and new ideas into the economy.
Meanwhile, the city’s business programs—such as the payment in lieu of tax
(PILOTs) program that offers property tax abatements for businesses and FastTrack Job Training Assistance Program (FJTAP) that gives direct funding for businesses that want to create new jobs or expand—has also been well-received and letting residents invest in their own community.
“Small business owners are the heart of our country,” says Boyd. There’s this disconnect of what a small business owner is. You ask people if they’re an entrepreneur and they’ll say ‘No, I’m a small business owner,’ so helping people realize that yes, they are an entrepreneur is really important as well as helping them build their own company.”
Over the course of this year, we’re exploring how entrepreneurs and businesses are faring in non-major U.S. cities, beginning with Des Moines, Iowa. We’ll be reporting on the ground from each city, talking with elected officials and business leaders about how they’re harnessing their unique resources and local talent to fuel economic growth and better compete against more established urban centers like San Francisco and New York City.