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City official: Memphis has made progress with minority contracts, but it’s not time to celebrate yet

By Montee Lopez, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Meet Kelley Bynum.

She, along with her husband, founded SKB Facilities & Maintenance, a local janitorial service that the couple has been working on for close to 10 years; all while working full-time jobs.

“It was a process,” Bynum said. “It was a matter of finding out how to run a business, what it takes, funding – all those things.”

The Bynums now have close to 200 employees and a contract with the City of Memphis. On Wednesday afternoon, she accepted the SBE (Small Business Enterprise) Champion Award, given during the second We Mean Business Symposium hosted by the City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance at the Tower Center Room at Clark Tower.

While business is booming now for Bynum and company, she readily remembers the doubts and rough spots. Joann Massey, the director of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development for the City of Memphis, is maneuvering to help more budding entrepreneurs succeed.

“Often times, people don’t know where to start,” Massey said, referring to access to opportunities and funding for start-up businesses, especially ventures initiated by minorities.

In Shelby County there are 49,000-plus African-American-owned business; only 784 of them have employees. Most are self-employed businesses, with many operating out of homes.

“We’re trying to streamline the services offered to small, women- and minority-owned businesses and make access to them easier,” Massey said.

That’s part of the reason why she developed “Propel.” It’s a 12-week program focused on helping existing businesses strengthen their models, the delivery services offered and engagement of customers – both public and private.

“Businesses can’t afford to close their doors for a day going to offices, organization, filling out paperwork, and taking them places.”

Last year, Massey, along with other city leaders, introduced the “We Mean Business Symposium” in conjunction with several other partnerships. She also oversaw the launch of a series of websites where people looking to start their own businesses can learn about specific licenses needed to operate.

To get a contract with the city, a business must be able to supply a service the city needs – such as construction. However, the city can still help other business owners get on their feet.

Helping minorities in Memphis is a passion for Massey. That concern is a way of life with roots in the New Chicago neighborhood where she grew up and experienced the effects of poverty first hand.

“Being an African American, I know the challenges and the barriers we face,” Massey said, “and I’m all too familiar with them.”

Massey has her sights set on helping to grow generational wealth for African Africans. She knows that increasing minority-owned businesses is crucial to that goal. Memphis, she said, moving in the right direction.

“We’re not satisfied,” Massey said. “We’re not celebrating.”

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