Note: The comments on this blog following our post last week about Memphis losing the race for talent have been important and enlightening. We have received emails from people connected with several prominent local organizations who have asked what we should do regarding talent. We have sent all of them the link to these comments and recommended that the first step in doing anything is to listen – really listen – to the people in this target demographic.
Because of the value of these comments, we are posting them here.
As a 25-34-year-old college-educated resident of Memphis that hangs out with many others in the same group, I can say without hesitation that this piece is right on the money.
Memphis offers some thrills for those younger than 25 (notably Rayford’s Disco, but that’s another story), but for those looking to settle down for more than a couple years and start a family, it’s difficult to find justification for relocating here. Memphis talks a good game, but I’ve seen very little action by residents, both leaders and ordinary citizens, to make this city a more attractive place to live. Until the call for action starts coming from those living IN the city, not just our leaders, college-educated 25-34 year olds will continue to see Memphis as at best, a place to spend a few years and then move on or at the worst, a place to be avoided all together.
Memphis has so much potential and so much to offer given its history and traditions that it breaks my heart to see its vast potential continue to be squandered by top-down projects designed to give a momentary boost to publicity but do little to actually make Memphis a more attractive place to live and grow a family.
Carol Coletta says:
This is a very valuable post, Tom. How do we make “talent” an issue for EDGE? I feel like we need a Jessica Chastain character who marks the passing of days on the office wall of the boss each day that goes by with no action.
I only take small issue on your description of a green city. We need a coordinated set of sophisticated and broad strategies to get there. We may be saying the same thing. But this is not only part of the talent attraction and retention strategy. It is also about efficiency and reducing cost of living.
Ray Brown says:
Great post, Tom. I continue to hope that, at some point before we’ve irretrievably gone over the edge, we will, as a community, decide to comprehensively reshape our public policy toward investment in the future instead of merely plugging holes in the dike.
Too many Memphians, citizens and public leaders alike, seem invested in promoting negativity and pessimism. We are on the verge of giving up on ourselves and our city. It is up to our leaders, especially our elected officials who shape our budget priorities, and therefore our long-term investment decisions and policy, to bend the arc of our city towards prosperity, and away from our current unsustainable path.
SMC, thank you for placing in words those ideas that continue to elude almost everyone in this community. Your post is preaching to the choir (most individuals that read this blog on a regular basis) but I am beginning to notice that the loft is definitely thinning. There are not as many of us as there were and it is increasingly noticeable- as noted by the City Vitals report.
At least one additional point to ponder is the emergence of a nearby community as one of those cities successfully competing for talent at the national level. Until recently, Memphis enjoyed a place of prominence as the most urban, economically and socially “connected” (to the national and global exchange) local in the region. However, Nashville’s rise gives opportunity to educated and driven individuals who are drawn to the vibrancy and economic activity found in the nation’s more urban and cosmopolitan places and who otherwise were either too timid to attempt the great leap to the majors (NYC, LA, Chicago, etc…) or were bound by family commitments. Nashville’s proximity to Memphis and the two cities relatively similar cultural and value systems overcomes these two major constraints and can have the effect of liberating a substantial number of those still here to simply “move up the road”. That said- and maybe it is simply pointing out the obvious- changing this city’s trajectory becomes even more difficult . The city and region must attempt to attract and retain those most capable of facilitating change at a time and place where the “new and improved” product is located on the same shelf with essentially the same price tag. Memphis is then faced with “selling” the opportunity of leading, being part of and supporting that change to a very small target group who is willing to accept the challenge with no time frame and no guarantee of success. It’s a big pill to swallow.
I wonder, has the chamber – or anyone for that matter- ever placed themselves in the shoes of the young, educated individual who is scouting for employment, a place to live and happen to not be from this area? If someone is moving from the northeast (for example), how would they go about trying to sell Memphis against Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta and Dallas? I can make it even more direct- if I am offered the same job in Memphis, Nashville, and Charlotte, why should I choose Memphis? A place to start might be enforcing a rule: the interview is over the moment anyone in the room mentions the airport, “distribution center” or the historic local music scene.
Smart City Memphis says:
To Urbanut: Great questions that you are asking and I fear that we know the answers. Anyone who’s involved in setting the economic development agenda for our community should ask them. Until we get honest and serious about talent so that it’s more than talking points, we will bleed talent to the cities that you list.
To Jayen6: You are absolutely right about the call for action. It should be loud and unmistakable and demand substantive plans.
To Carol: We were saying the same thing. You just said it better. Since talent got put on the rhetorical agenda here, there have been some initiatives but they are treated by those in power as the official responses when talent needs to be the thread through all that is done here. We are in crisis but as our friend Henry Turley once said: We pay people a lot of money here to tell us what we want to hear.
Ray: Thanks for the comments. We are at-risk and we need a serious investing in Memphis program.
So we agree on the goal(s). Then what are our strategies for achieving those goals?
Mid Americas Big New City.
America’s Distribution Center.
Steve Steffens (LWC) says:
It’s time to blow up the plantation and the plantation mentality; i.e., the wrong people are leaving.
Evan Hurst says:
Like most Memphians my age, I have contemplated moving away approximately 40,678 times. I’m always torn because I love this city, but I go to New England or out West and I find “my people,” people who do not seem to exist in abundant supply here in Memphis. But then I say, “but I love being a Southerner. I don’t want to lose that whole Southern Liberal thing by going to New England.” Then I remember that there are Southern Liberals like me in New England, out West, all over the place.
They’re the ones who got out.
This article is completely on point.
Jonathan Cole says:
I regularly celebrate the good that is going on in Memphis and am committed to living in and contributing to the success of Memphis. I know the Hi-Tone well and really mourn the loss of the music venue. But this blog post is the first I have ever heard about Live From Memphis or the Memphis Art Park. This could mean any number of things:
a.) I am really out of the loop.
b) These respective venture didn’t do a sufficient job of reaching out to Memphians who would support them.
c) These respective venture worked hard to reach out to Memphians and the powers that be for support and were turned down.
From this post, it sounds like “c)” is the reason we’re losing these cultural resources/opportunities.
If Memphis has not figured out why this segment of population doesn’t choose Memphis first, then everybody hs been dumb as a box of rocks since the early 80s at least.
The perception of the city (outside the region) is that of a backwoods overgrown ‘town’, that crows about things that the younger more educated, more urbane and refined person doesn’t care about really – stupid things like Elvis, BBQ, the BBQ cooking contest, minor league sports, the Plantation, Memphis in May, Stax Records, and chain food.lol
Strategies ? stop listening to a bunch of so-called “insiders” who have ruining the city for decades, import new advisors, get rid of the old-head knowitalls (they haven’t done much good, or we would be farther down the road)
Strategies ?? go talk to recent B school grads and ask them what THEY seek….I’m not talking about wasting time talking to s local scmuck that just got out of University of Memphis, or the University of Mississippi, or Mississippi State – reach out to school in the midwest, New England, and ask them what they are looking for and prefer, because the locals aren’t adding anything to retention and future attraction ! even they are smart enough to look for greener pastures ! you know it’s bad when your homegrown newly minted younger professionals look to leave this area as soon as they can.
It’s bad – because they too want to experience broader measures of exposures. Many younger professional families don’t even want their own children to grow up and get schooled in this area. That’s a problem.
Why on earth would they not consider other cities?? that seems fairly smart to me..why would any thinking younger professional wear blinders about the myriad of other viable possibilities in this great nation ???
Like it or not Memphis is not likely to become a mecca for these younger people as long as there are much muich better places to discover and learn about. Life is about learning – travel and relocation broadens that younger professional ! staying in the same ole dump serves to limit your own horixons and maturity.
Competiution is good for every one, and every city.
Divising competiiive strategies mean you have to get OUT of Memphis , see and investigate what others are doing well ! welcome divergent opinion and thought – go see what works for others – your models of course can’t be cities , states and regions that suck ! obviously so – the answer for Memphis to took outside of the Mississippi corridor, and avoid getting contaminated by its proximity to Mississippi. That’s what kills the perception of Memphis in places like the midwest, the mountain states, the west, and it sure as hell kills it in the Northeast and specifically New England.
Strategies ? establish alliances where Memphis’ reputation is in the garbage can, and explain and show the candidates why that perception might be quite wrong ….or sorta wrong.
Mobility is too great these days for younger professionals to endure living is a city whose reputation and image is that of a third-rate choice.
*posted from a response to this article on response on facebook by miguelito equis:
as someone who moved to memphis at the age of 30, i was drawn here by the ample prospects of purchasable square footage, the overwhelming musical history, and the desire to create an art space in a city where we could really stand out and make a positive addition to the scene.
after 3 years of hosting visiting artists for installation based shows at five in one, we began to search for a larger venue which could accommodate our growing need for floor space as we purchased new machines and grew our studio practices.
as we looked at building after building we found that every landlord we encounter is waiting for their ship to come in… they bought a building in 2005 for $80,000 and they are convinced that because of (name your huge project here) the pyramid development, the sears crosstown plan, the perpetually-about-to-boom-south-main-arts-district, all these individuals expect that their investment property will attract a $4 per square foot tenant right now. except they don’t. they fall apart from neglect instead.
they have been waiting a long time for these tenants and are, i’m guessing, frightened to have an interim tenant who will light up the storefronts, attract street traffic, and breath life into the area for fear they could be missing out on that big fish tenant.
it is distressing that these landlords do not realize, accept, understand, or believe that the way to making the building worth they money that they feel they deserve is to allow the neighborhood to grow organically – new street lights, paved sidewalks and park benches do no attract big spending tenants – an active area does that. active areas grow because there is something to do in them. shop here – drink there – sit and eat something on a patio.
we have looked all over this city for a non-basement home for our art space – something above ground – something with windows – something that lets the neighborhood see us and what we have to offer. social club in the basement was awesome for the first 3 seasons, but just imagine the impact that our “kindergarten for grown folks” could have if it was not restricted to a hole in the ground.
we have looked everywhere from north thomas to tchulahoma and the song is always the same…”we would love to have you. your rent would be $2500.” $2500 for a building that has been empty for 15 years. $2500 for a building with plywood over the broken store front windows. $2500 for a building that would take us 6 months at $250,000 to plug the leaks, rebuild the outside wall, and rewire the entire power grid.
at some point, the people who struggle to live the kind of life that makes a difference to others’ lives will just to throw up their hands and cry “uncle”. it is not this hard everywhere, so why don’t we just go there? read “christopher reyes”. read “sarah fleming”. read “jonathan kiersky”.
i too, love this city and want to be a part of a great thing. i don’t want to leave. but i really don’t want to be in the same situation in 10 years – hoping that somehow, some way i’ll be able to live and thrive at some unforeseeable point in the future whilst struggling to survive on what feature films don’t go to nashville, atlanta or new orleans, the big tshirt job that comes twice a year, and whatever else i can hustle up in the meantime.
i’ll pretend here that i don’t have 5 years of experience trying to wrest on of the bazillion empty properties from the clutches of a do-nothing-let-my-building-fall-apart landlord and ask “how hard can it be to get a great building here?” there are so many of them. and yet it seems that there are none at all.
thank you to whoever wrote this piece in smart city. you’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s going on. now what are we going to do about it?
Former Memphian who loves Memphis says:
Yes, this all means good and well, but as a gainfully employed designer now living in another city it seems more important to me for Memphis to have jobs for the said creative types. And honestly, even with all of the professional experience I have, I know I wouldn’t be able to move back to Memphis and find employment. I wouldn’t say that this isn’t the fault of the city’s, but more an absence of the demand for that kind of work. There’s only so many ad agencies and design groups in Memphis, and only so many people need their services. I feel like this can be applied to most professional creative fields in Memphis. Everyone needs work, and all the greening in the world isn’t going to provide enough creative jobs to go around. I’m not saying this as a dig on Memphis at all, I am not one to complain about Memphis. I speak nothing but good things to folks I meet in other parts of the country, I just see it as a current reality in regards to the job market.
The truth is it is “all of the above”. The lack of jobs for creative professionals (and young professionals in general,) is a major reason young folks are leaving. I’ve known plenty of people who love the city but leave because their career prospects are better elsewhere. One great way to change this is to improve the environment for start-ups. We’ve made major strides here, but there is still a long way to go. The missing ingredient is not skill, but funding. Memphis is traditionally an entrepreneurial town, but the moneyed interests around here are older and more conservative. In addition, these same folks are constantly hit up for philanthropic missions for which there is also a great need. There is only so much local money to go around.
At the same time, jobs will not cure everything. We still need to cultivate a city that is welcoming to talent. There have been major successes lately with the development of Shelby Farms, Greenline, and the slow but steady revival of the city core, but we have a long ways to go. Notice we made the most improved list in Bicycle Magazine but not the Top 50.
Memphis is already a great city. However, it is not a thriving city. It is headed in the right direction, but those of us who love this place have a lot of work ahead if we want this city to truly prosper.
Memphis will continue to lose young people, talent and such because the education system is a failure and it is so much negativity…..
That is why I shut down Detour Memphis Online Magazine and got out of Memphis…..
I moved to Memphis i my early 20′s solely because the city inspired me creatively. I was educated here, began my career here, bought my first house here, had enumerable amazing only-in-Memphis experiences, made life-long friends, and was heavily involved in the creative community. Suffice it to say I was a “ride or die” chick. Memphis was my first love. However, after spending the next 15 years struggling to remain employed in the creatie services industry, I finally gave up. A person reaches a point in their career where they must move up or move on, and as the poster above me stated, there are a finite number of professional creative opportunities in Memphis and virtually no industry to support it. I’m now in a city where the creative class is embraced and thriving. It’s such a relief to have that level of support and job security – I had no idea what I was missing. Even though miss Memphis with every ounce of my being, I will never, ever move back.
RE:s we looked at building after building we found that every landlord we encounter is waiting for their ship to come in… they bought a building in 2005 for $80,000 and they are convinced that because of (name your huge project here) … all these individuals expect that their investment property will attract a $4 per square foot tenant right now. except they don’t. they fall apart from neglect instead.
SPOT ON, it’s criminal how these landlords have allowed once vital neighborhoods to decay.
And the trolley should have gone through to Overton Square, now that they are attempting to revitalize this area…what a missed opportunity.
Overpriced plane fares, lack of high speed rail…
Minimum wage jobs at a Bass Pro Shop won’t turn this mess around….
Memphis’ rate of change has perceptibly slowed in the past year. I don’t think the leveling will continue, or reverse downward, but I think it’s important to stop hoping that old (professionally not personally) leadership, more or less the same since the 1970s, will finally get these ideas and act on them decisively, despite the work of Tom and Carol.
I don’t know what the positive or active form of “stop hoping” will be (perhaps a city-wide outbreak of the bubble-up creativity that Live from Memphis inspired us with), but I feel fairly certain that not stopping is the path to exhaustion and cynicism.
This could not be more true, regardless of how depressing these words may be. I am native to Memphis, received my college education in Memphis, and am apart of the ‘creative class’. This is my testimony in regards to this post as I am sure it is shared by many.
I left Memphis last year because I was unable to pay back my over-the-top loans and unable to secure a career in the almost non-existent professional creative scene in Memphis. After realizing there were no career opportunities for me, nor opportunities to further my education in Arts business, management, or administration- I left- and pursued my education and creative output in a new city.
Last year, I was also forced to close down the alternative art space Odessa after many years because of the lack of funding. Although our building was located in the “up and coming” Broad Ave neighborhood, the space we were located in was rubbish and we were unable to produce a steady flow of capital for extreme renovations needed to enhance the space (new dry wall, etc). Unfortunately, we were barely scrapping by to fund our basic expenditures and no funding that we did put in to renovations was ever met with lowered rent payments.
Regardless of the tremendous community support we received, we could only ask for donations so many time before even the most supportive of our supporters would get tired of hearing from us. As someone stated earlier in the thread, the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough people wanting to facilitate start-ups or participate in the growth of Memphis’s economy, but rather that there isn’t enough funding (and if there is, it’s not being distributed to all the right places).
I have spent the last 5 months in the United Kingdom with first-hand knowledge of their governmental funding for the arts and cultural sectors. It is unbelievable how much more financial support is given to charitable arts organizations here. Support not only comes from the government, but also private funders as well because of the general consensus and research provided that the arts improve your life, your tourism, and your economy. Research and Development regarding creativity and innovation is nonstop and has been put as a priority in the UK- something Memphis should really put an emphasis on. Collaboration, Innovation, and Cross-Disciplinary funding and research should be emphasized as well.
There is no evidence available for non-creative city officials in Memphis to go by when considering funding for these non-profits. The only evidence they have is that we keep having to close our doors- not why we keep having to do so.
There should also be a wider initiative to education the creative class on grant writing, grant research, business strategy/planning, and public funding available in the community. There are hardly any arts business skills offered to the public- and sadly not even offered in our schools.
Memphis will always hold a special place in my heart, and I want the best for it, but unfortunately I don’t foresee myself returning in the near future because of these factors.
Also, as I forgot to state above, I am 25 years old.
Years ago I lived in Chicago when the first Mayor Daley ruled. What he did to keep the city vital that is not done in Memphis was to use the assessor’s office to make sure building owners could not just sit on properties. Yes, a landlord can hang on to an empty building for over twenty-five years in Overton Square because the taxes during that time were merely a minor nuisance. As long as the establishment in Memphis allows building owners to enjoy tax rates that are just a gesture, then these owners will continue to wait for their ship to come in at little or no cost to themselves. Make these building owners pay equitable property taxes, and the opportunities for entrepreneurs who are not well-connected will be abundant. I, however, do not know how to wrest the valuations of empty buildings from the hands of those who enjoy the way things are presently done. Any suggestions?
hang out a few more gay pride flags, maybe?
Today was a very bad day for Memphis – we lost a major employer and a historic building in Midtown will be torn down and most likely turned into a chain store. There is a complete lack of awareness on the part of our city leaders as to what makes a city an attractive city of choice for mobile creative young people. The fact that Larry Cox is still in power alone speaks volumes about the good ole boy power structure in Memphis. But it must also be said the arts get no real interest from the men who run our cities most important corporations – Fred Smith for example (a fine man I am sure) spends his capital on college level and professional sports that is what interests him – he presumably see no value in supporting the emerging arts in Memphis – we are stuck in a 70s time warp – Memphis is not a city of choice – it is becoming less of a city of choice for young mobile people. Until we are able to educate the power structure in Memphis – both corporate and government – the importance of attracting young mobile creatives we will suffer.
I’m part of the demographic this article is talking about. I’m a college educated 26 year old and just moved back to Memphis after living on the west coast and abroad for several years after college. I moved back several months ago and I’ve questioned my decision every day since then.
I love Memphis but I sometimes wonder what is left here for someone like me. The majority of my friends have moved on to Nashville or other thriving cities out west. Some of my favorite places and things in Memphis have stopped, as referenced in the article. I’ve struggled through being a non-car owner and using the subpar public transportation. I want to have kids, but where will they go to school if I continue living in Midtown and can’t afford private school?
I came back thinking Memphis is a city where you can carve out a space for yourself, where you can make things happen. I still believe that is true on some level but I now know it’s a battle through all the problems and negativity the city can throw at you. Is such an uphill battle worth it? I want to say yes but… I don’t know.
It feels like I’ll eventually have to leave even though I want to hang on. I don’t want to complain about specifics, but I do wish the city had more to offer people like me.
Snowden school is an excellent public school in Midtown. My boys are in their 7th school year there and we have had an outstanding experience at the school, so be encouraged to know you can stay in Midtown with kids.
I definitely sympathize with your entire situation (replace west coast with NYC). I too was very optimistic regarding the ability to enact change and work towards impacting the city’s trajectory. Despite what a certain less than reputable author above stated, most of us have in fact traveled and in many cases lived outside of Memphis in thriving urban centers across the nation and have chosen at some point or another to move to Memphis. However, the glacial pace of change, the reluctance to embrace new and ideas and processes and the general instinctive indifference (or outright negative) response to any positive effort is enough to grind anyone down.
I know I might be burned at the stake for even suggesting this next thought, but at some point do we not need to examine the city’s “soul” and “identity” as a potential root of the problem. I have heard time and again over the past few years from various individuals how Memphis must find its own path to becoming a vibrant and prosperous community. That we cannot compromise by forgoing “our grittiness” in exchange for greatness. Has anyone questioned whether the values, ideas and places that make this city unique may also be killing it? Excuse the weak analogy: fried chicken may be a tasty treat but enough of it will kill you. Where we may see a uniquely gritty scene, the rest of the world may see decay, despair or irrelevance. There comes a time where the unique attributes, characteristics or authenticity of a person, thing or place may in fact be the very things that are unappealing, discouraging or deal breakers for the rest of society.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is what value local citizens and their leaders place on history. History is great- it supports pride in a community, it allows for progress to be charted and it illustrates where we are going. However, historic performance does not guarantee future results. Does this region think it’s historic bio is enough to support future growth? We may have a great historic music resume and continue to use that to attract tourists, but a city’s musical roots and historic markers do little to support the actual band, artist or composer alive now. We may have a great history of supporting entrepreneurs and supporting new business models, but that history does little to enable the living, breathing entrepreneur or small business owner sitting out there right now. As we have seen over the past 36 hours, just because a corporate citizen has “always” been here, does not mean they (and the prosperity that accompanies businesses and creative individuals) will always be here. I get the impression that many of our political and civic leaders think that much of what surrounds them is static or guaranteed to be there from day to day. Perhaps a few more wake-up calls (or a trip to Detroit, Buffalo, Syracuse or Toledo) are necessary to educate certain individuals and passive citizenry that even the current stagnant condition is not guaranteed tomorrow and could be considered as a golden age if the city, metro and regional trajectory are not addressed with something other than words.
Carrie Brown says:
Thanks for this post. You are dead on. Memphis needs to recognize all the ways in which it really is grinding down new ideas with the”this is the way we have always done it” mentality. I have lived here 4.5 years and I love the city, but every day I marvel and how far we have fallen behind other places I have lived.
So what’s step one to recalibrate the direction of this great region?
I’m sick of the can’ts, don’ts, and wont’s.
And I’m not abandoning this, despite the atmosphere of negativity that could create an artificial ceiling on our potential and effort.
Beyond all the hopeless here on these boards, there are dozens of hopeful with the same creativity, same dreams, same desires, none of whom are inherently inferior in ability. How do we leverage a combined desire to catalyze a creative Memphis? How do we seize on the hope that Black Girls Code identified, and turn it into more? How do we unify the creatives here?
Because the negativity is motivating me to fight for region.