Strickland launches initiative to help 800 black-owned businesses increase revenue

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- During a news conference Tuesday morning, the city's director of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development, Joann Massey, asked people to “believe in the opportunities of Memphis.”

But that effort is still a work in progress.

During the same meeting, Mayor Jim Strickland said Memphis has failed a lot of business owners.

“One percent of total business receipts in our city go to African-American-owned business when 63 percent of our city is African American. That’s not sustainable,” Strickland said.

To work on that, Strickland and others announced a new "800 Initiative" today to fund training and help for 800 businesses with black owners.

Officials said they've identified companies that have plateaued in growth, like the cleaning business owned by Charles Barnes.

"We have been able to pay our employees a nice salary and grow. That’s what we need in this community for companies to be successful, to continue to grow and help people," he said.

The mayor has proposed spending $500,000 a year from his budget on the program. FedEx has agreed to spend $1 million over four years. The funds will pay for loans and grants, while Christian Brothers University will support continuing education.

“We’re going to be involved in a lot of training aspects of the program so entrepreneurs who have the idea but don’t have the business acumen can do certificate programming and get other degrees," President John Smarrelli said.

“This office will reach out to 800 companies but we hope they will reach out to us because we want to grow these businesses," Strickland said. "We need the growth in Downtown, Midtown and East Memphis to be spread through the whole city, so all parts of our city see this economic boom and this is one step toward that."

The mayor said they hoped to help the 800 businesses grow revenue by $50 million in the next five years.