FedEx partnership aims to grow 75 black businesses


by Dena L. Owens, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

“Grow or die,” says Richard Smith referring to future economic growth in Memphis.

Smith, president and CEO of FedEx Logistics and board chairman for the Greater Memphis Chamber, revealed plans to identify and support 75 black entrepreneurs wanting to grow their small businesses through a public/private partnership.

The announcement came last Thursday (April 18) as partner executives, minority business owners, Mayor Jim Strickland and other officials gathered for a breakfast meeting.

Smith explained the rationale for the effort as concerns mount about the need for investment in underserved areas of the city.

While large-scale developments enjoy extensive tax incentives in Downtown, Midtown and East Memphis, disadvantaged African-American communities such as New Chicago in North Memphis and others could use more capital support for small business growth. Investment in these areas can create jobs where needed and build a stronger Memphis economy, inclusively.

“Our new-found momentum can be easily derailed,” said Smith, referring to the economic momentum often touted by Strickland.

“We ‘must be intentional’ as we expand (opportunities) to more minorities and disenfranchised groups,” Smith added. “We have to do better.”

The capacity-building plan is the result of an alliance between FedEx, Regions Bank, City of Memphis and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), a national driver of urban economic prosperity. ICIC began its Memphis work in 2014 with Regions Bank providing capital coaching. In 2015, the partnership expanded to include FedEx.

This year, Memphis will participate in ICIC’s tuition-free leadership program called Inner City Capital Connection (ICCC) to prepare entrepreneurs for lasting, sustainable growth.

ICCC provides instruction to minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) owners with a focus on: (1) capacity training, (2) one-on-one coaching and (3) connections to capital providers.

Approved applicants must complete 40 flexible training hours in three to six months. Instruction includes a day-long opening seminar, webinars and a national conference.

To qualify for ICCC, an MWBE must have five or more employees, be two or more years operational in low-income neighborhoods across Memphis, and satisfy other criteria as required. Revenue of at least $500,000 annually is preferred. However, ICCC officials say this condition is negotiable.

MWBE owners may nominate themselves or to six other MWBE owners, or be nominated through a small business developer, such as the City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance.

Jiljuana Coleman, a certified MWBE owner and head of Jamerson Strategic Consulting in Memphis, is one of 4,000 ICCC alumni nationwide. Coleman, who once held a career in banking, decided in 2017 to open her own company assisting MWBE owners with financial strategy and training.

After only two years, Coleman is poised to move her company from serving local and national clients to pursuing global customers. She gives ICCC credit for her growth.

Memphis, a city that is more than 60 percent African American, has faced decades of stagnant economic growth with only 1 percent of local revenue going to minority-owned businesses, according to a 2015 census. Currently, several public/private partnerships are working side-by-side to address the issue.

For example, FedEx, an ICIC partner, is also aligned with the 800 Initiative, a program led by the City of Memphis to grow minority business revenues by $50 million in five years. Participation in ICCC could in fact support the goals of the 800 Initiative, which is backed by a $1 million investment from FedEx and $500,000 in funding from the City.

Simultaneously, FedEx, which spent $9.5 billion with minority suppliers across the U.S. in 2018, is seeking to expand local minority supplier contracts since Memphis is home to FedEx headquarters and the expanding FedEx Logistics operation.

Pat Hopper, managing director of Sourcing and Supplier Diversity for FedEx, encourages local MWBE owners to “get prepared” to fill large-scale needs that companies like Fed­Ex might require.

ICCC can help MWBE owners move into greater levels of service in order to bid on larger, sought-after contracts.

To learn more about ICCC, visit Follow the prompts to apply for ICCC training or to nominate MWBE owners for the free program. The deadline for nominations is July 26.

To learn how to become a FedEx supplier, visit

Save-the-Dates …

June 27 – The “We Mean Business” Symposium and Luncheon will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. The event is sponsored by FedEx and will focus on business development in Memphis.

August 22 – The ICCC Opening Seminar for MWBE owners accepted into the program will be held at the FedEx Institute of Technology on the University of Memphis Campus (time TBD).