Much is written about the large companies that select Memphis for their international headquarters. Something less written about is the entrepreneurial spirit that is strong in Memphis. Not only is entrepreneurialism alive and strong in Memphis today but it has a long history of defining the fabric of this business and socially rich gem of the south.
There’s a new phrase describing urban investment today. Traditional economic growth primarily benefits developers and small groups of people with pockets deep enough to finance growth or redevelopment. The phrase replacing economic development is “Shared Prosperity”. One such project taking root in Memphis is Shared Prosperity Partnership, beginning the fall of 2018. The national funding partnership is made of the Kresge Foundation, the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, the Urban Institute, and Living Cities.
Memphis is included among four other cities being evaluated for opportunities to generate “inclusive economic growth, prosperity and opportunity for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender and income.” A primary goal is working “with local leaders to collaboratively determine if, where, and how the Shared Prosperity Partnership can provide meaningful support to advance shared prosperity.” This March, a core team of University of Memphis graduate students and faculty members begins looking at various approaches in designing the University District's shared prosperity plan. A starting point is likely to be expanding the already blooming Highland Strip by growing in towards the university’s South Campus.
In other entrepreneurial developments, as recently as January of this year, a community based technical park opened. Initially, there will be 17 “citizen companies” and members. The University of Memphis Research Foundation Research Park strives “to preserve community spirit, amplify opportunity and establish a center of creative empowerment and emerging innovation.” A second phase is planned for the U of M’s Park Avenue Campus with a third phase to attract public-private partnerships.
With its long history of development and redevelopment, Memphis has a long list of master entrepreneurs. Jack Belz is recognized as a leader of the modern day revitalization of Downtown Memphis. As far back as 1948, Belz first envisioned the possibilities of the downtown sector when he married his wife at the Peabody Hotel. His family purchased the hotel in 1975 rescuing it from dilapidation. He reopened it in 1981, at the same time revealing his dream for revitalizing downtown Memphis. Belz realized his dream by contributing to revitalization projects all over Memphis to leave his mark on the city.
In 2010, Mike Burns (president and founder) retired from Comtrak Logistics, a national transportation and logistics company headquartered in Memphis. Along with the many charitable and entrepreneurial awards that Burns received over the years, Comtrak was named to the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies and Memphis Business Journal named Comtrak business of the year.
More recently, Jeff Webb has demonstrated the entrepreneurial “spirit” by founding and growing Varsity Spirit into a national brand. Since the mid-70s, Varsity Spirit has grown into the world’s largest operator of specialty camps in this field. Today, there are more than 250,000 participants annually. In 1981, Varsity Spirit move to the national stage when it conducted its first nationally televised cheerleading competition on ESPN. Today the special event division produces 13 different televised competitions each year and organizes performance tours for school spirit groups to promote events such as Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the NFL Pro Bowl, and the London Parade. Varsity Spirit is the largest specialty camp operator in the world with over 270,000 attendees each summer. The Company’s apparel division now produces over 1,000,000 custom uniforms annually.
Along with S&P 500 corporations, Memphis continues thriving and growing with already established entrepreneurial businesses as well as planning more startups. Please comment if this article was helpful or if you have a question. Also, our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions, inquiries, or article ideas to [email protected].