A perfect mix of blues and business + More trailblazing goin’ on.
"When I was walking in Memphis, I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale." – Marc Cohn
WHEELS DOWN: MEMPHIS
Photo by jive667 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
From King Cotton to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Memphis has been at the forefront in countless economic and cultural developments since its founding in 1819. More recently, however, competition and the Great Recession have forced the city to play catchup. A 2014 report by the Brookings Institution identified some big challenges. In fact, the city ranked in the bottom half of large metros on most measures of economic performance, including productivity and wages.
That report didn’t offer a postmortem, however. Instead, it offered a roadmap for transforming the metro Memphis economy in four ways: solidifying the region as the preeminent center for multi-modal movement of goods; establishing the region as an innovation hub, especially in diagnostic services and medical devices; improving workforce skills and access to career jobs; and becoming a model of regional collaboration. As the report noted, “Metro Memphis possesses considerable assets and strengths from which to build.”
Memphis has a strong foundation to build on in its five key business sectors: transportation, distribution and logistics; manufacturing; headquarters and business services; agriculture and ag tech; and medical devices.
Take that first sector. Thanks to the FedEx World Hub, Memphis International Airport is the second busiest air cargo airport in the world.
But that’s just one way the city moves goods. Memphis is one of only four U.S. cities served by five Class I rail systems, allowing goods to get to 45 states, Canada and Mexico by rail within 48 hours. Trucks out of Memphis can reach 187.6 million people in 152 metro markets overnight. And then there’s the mighty Mississippi. The Port of Memphis is the fifth largest inland port in the country and generates more customs duties than most major U.S. seaports, including New Orleans. It seems that Old Man River really does just keep rollin’ along.
Living large on the Levee
When he wasn’t on the road, Elvis Presley famously lived large in Memphis. His 17,552-square-foot Graceland mansion featured everything from a 15-foot-long sofa to an indoor waterfall in the Jungle Room.
But you don’t have to be rock ’n’ roll royalty to live large here. According to a 2019 study, Memphis boasts the lowest cost of living among America’s 50 largest cities when you combine taxes, housing, groceries, transportation costs and healthcare costs. A Memphian earning $100,000 would have an astonishing $46,093 left over for discretionary spending.
By comparison, someone making that salary in San Francisco would come up $2,734 short before buying her first latte. Housing costs are the biggest difference, according to Jeff Wallace, Ph.D., of the University of Memphis’s Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “For the price of a broom closet in San Francisco, a nice family home can be rented or purchased in Memphis,” he wrote in a 2019 report. “The high cost of living in San Francisco is a real barrier to entry to young professionals and entrepreneurs trying to make their mark on the world.” (Of course, similar comparisons could be made between many coastal and heartland cities.)
So what can Memphians do with all their spare cash? In addition to Graceland, major attractions include the National Civil Rights Museum, the Pink Palace Museum and a host of music-related attractions, including the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. And Memphis is home to the NBA’s Grizzlies, who immigrated from Vancouver, B.C., in 2001. Although they’ve missed the playoffs the last two years, they feel their future, like their host city’s, is bright.
And if you're into the Delta Blues, you have to hang out on Beale Street, almost two miles of great music and parties.
Living on the EDGE
One way Memphis is working toward a bright future is through EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine), the economic development agency for the City of Memphis and Shelby County Government. EDGE coordinates incentive programs and fosters public/private partnerships designed to create jobs, grow the economy, revitalize neighborhoods, attract investments, spark innovation and encourage entrepreneurship.
Since its creation in 2011, EDGE has shepherded 181 projects that have led to $5.7 billion in capital investment and 32,789 jobs with an average wage of $66,862.
If you’re keeping score, that wage is nearly $13,000 more than the city’s average cost of living, giving those workers extra money to spend on themselves in the city they call home.
STEM comes to KC’s urban core
Today’s young students are tomorrow’s workforce—and they will need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to succeed in increasingly high-tech careers. That’s where initiatives like WeCodeKC come into the picture.
Founders Tammy Buckner and Dr. Phillip Hickman launched WeCodeKC last fall to provide a STEM curriculum to kids ages 7 to 17 who have been underrepresented in tech learning opportunities. The free, year-round program exposes kids to coding methodologies, cybersecurity, and computer concepts.
Buckner is the founder and CTO of Techquity Digital, a tech consultancy that helps companies develop business solutions. She said the goal of WeCodeKC is to help urban talent become future tech leaders. “We are building out an ‘urban shore,’” she said. “I know a lot of companies go offshore to look for development work, but we basically want to bring that home.”
Hickman, who is an EdTech entrepreneur, author, and the founder of Plabook, said that a number of corporate donors have supported the project. “They either donated money or laptops. Now our students can have a high quality and high class learning experience for free.”
Talk about your odd couples
Okay, Boomers. How about sharing your home with a younger adult, maybe a grad student who’s struggling with college debt?
Intergenerational home sharing is becoming a thing, and for some people, it makes a lot of sense. There are upsides for both parties: affordable housing, shared expenses, companionship, and maybe a division of chores. But how do prospective housemates find each other?
St. Louis startup Odd Couples Housing has taken on that challenge. Founder John Levis first took his concept to a group of students at Washington University’s Olin School of Business to evaluate its feasibility. They suggested that rather than pairing two seniors, which was his original idea, a young/old match would be better. And given the concentration of universities in St. Louis, there’s no shortage of millennials looking for an affordable place to live.
Levis turned to Brian Carpenter, a professor at Washington University’s department of psychological and brain sciences, to build a set of compatibility questions to identify preferences, interests, and personality types. Carpenter’s students created a dating-app style algorithm to calculate a “match score.”
Odd Couples made its first match in 2018, and the company has now facilitated 20 arrangements. It hopes to set up 10 times that many matches this year.
Columbus' Zipline Logistics is on the move
Third-party shipping manager Zipline Logistics, based in Columbus, OH, is on the move—both literally and figuratively. Over the past five years, the company has tripled its revenue and grown its customer base by 62%, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Zipline is set to expand operations, relocating to a larger office space where it will lease 16,000 square feet. The company plans to invest $1.1 million in renovations, IT support, and employee training and will be adding 37 jobs.
In a press release, CEO Walter Lynch said, “We believe in purposeful growth. To us, that means expansion without disruption to office culture or customer experience. Our values and mission to improve the lives of transportation professionals are what continue to drive us forward.”
Zipline Logistics was founded in 2007 and bills itself as a “digitally enabled transportation partner that specializes exclusively in serving the food, beverage, and consumer product manufacturers.”
Useless information that is strangely fascinating.
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