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The 800 Initiative hailed as a setup to win

The historic Universal Life Building at 480 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in ZIP Code 38126 is envisioned as a fitting place to nurture and develop African-American-owned businesses.

On Tuesday, Mayor Jim Strickland and an array of business leaders rolled out “The 800 Initiative” for African-American-owned businesses with Universal as the backdrop.

The 800 Initiative was devised after a disparity study showed that some 800 African-American-owned businesses were “stuck in the beginning stage” of developing a profitable enterprise.

“Our goal is to increase the annual revenue of these 800 companies by $50 million by the year 2023,” Strickland said.

The economic-development push consists primarily of three main components: 1) Technical assistance; 2) Business coaching by successful professionals; and 3) Financial support through loans and grants.

Strickland is proposing a $500,000 expenditure in the city budget this year and for the next two years. Joann Massey, director of Business Diversity and Compliance for the city, said the initiative would officially start after meeting with the Memphis City Council.

Massey noted Universal Life’s “history of hope and prosperity for African-Americans.”

“Universal Life will provide a place where there is one central location for resources, open to all businesses, regardless of their race or gender. They can receive help to develop into real economic players in the local marketplace.”

Sherica Hymes: “I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just all talk and that the city was truly committed to equity and fairness when it comes to minority businesses.” (Courtesy photo)

Sherica Hymes, owner and proprietor of leadership development firm, Polished Consulting LLC, was on hand for the initiative’s unveiling.

“I felt so encouraged and so inspired on Tuesday,” said Hymes. “I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just all talk and that the city was truly committed to equity and fairness when it comes to minority businesses. But Mayor Strickland has established those relationships needed to help minority businesses get a seat at the table.

“It’s also very important that when large city contracts are awarded, winners of those bids must include a certain percentage of minority businesses to retain that contract,” Hymes said.

“I feel like we are being set up to win. Small businesses are the heartbeat of this city, and Memphis is majority African American. When minority businesses are winning, the whole city wins.”

Is The 800 Initiative a slam-dunk for minority businesses?

Is generating $50 million in receipts over the next five years as easy as engendering business partnerships, providing technical assistance and awarding loans and grants?

“Fifty million in annual receipts over the next five years is the goal, but it is achievable because all the ingredients are there,” said Mark Yates, chief visionary officer for the Black Business Association.

It may not be as simple as that, but Mark Yates, newly appointed chief visionary officer for the Black Business Association, likes the formula.

“What we have is an overwhelming number of black businesses are one-person shops,” said Yates. “Fifty million in annual receipts over the next five years is the goal, but it is achievable because all the ingredients are there. These minority businesses will have access to capital, business coaching and technical assistance – everything they need to grow and prosper. Let’s just say I am very hopeful.”

After the initiative has begun, quarterly reports will gauge the progress of participating businesses, Yates said.

Lead partners of the plan were on hand, including Christian Brothers University, Start Co, Epicenter and FedEx. FedEx has pledged, in addition to the $1.5 million from the city, another $1 million over the next four years.

Tennessee Small Business Development Centers, the Black Business Association of Memphis and the Mid-South Minority Business Council will also partner with The 800 Initiative at a later time.

The 800 Initiative leadership partners will reach out to each business, but business owners may also contact the city’s Office of Business Diversity and Compliance for more information. That number is 901-636-6210.

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