Main and Mulberry Podcast – June 17, 2020 (w/ Joann Massey, City of Memphis)

Will small businesses survive the Coronavirus pandemic? Nearly $100,000 in loans have been delivered to Memphis, TN-based small businesses thanks to the City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance. OBDC Director Joann Massey shares with us her “we mean business” strategies for encouraging local business owners, in addition to resources available to listeners who are actively seeking to make a difference in their area.


AB: Hello everyone! I’m Anna Bell, and welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry! Today I’m so excited to have with us the Director for the city of Memphis Business Diversity and Compliance Office, Joann Massey. Ms. Joann, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

JM: Absolutely. Thank you, Anna Bell, for having me here. I’m really excited to be here with you and your viewers.

AB: Yeah. We’re thankful to have you! So I’d like to kind of get started and get to know you.. are you from the Memphis area and maybe you can kind of tell us about your role and responsibilities as the Director for the OBDC?

JM: Sure. Um, I am born, raised, and educated, as I like to say, here in Memphis. I started my education at the University of Memphis and articulated with a dual degree in business administration and finance at LeMoyne-Owen college. I’ve been here in Memphis, my entire life. I’ve worked in government. I have a background in finance. I worked at Morgan Keegan for a time as an Associate Vice President. And I also have a background in banking and marketing. For the last 12 years, I’ve worked in economic development and when Mayor Strickland took office in 2016, one of the things he campaigned on was ensuring that small businesses, minority women, businesses receive more opportunities in city contracting. He hired me that February created the office of business diversity and compliance. And here we are four years later. Primarily my responsibilities include ensuring that small minority and women businesses are aware of the bidding opportunities and contracting opportunities, but also with my background in wealth management and finance and so forth, I manage the entrepreneurs network center, which is a unit that’s located at four 80 Dr. MLK Boulevard that helps businesses from startup to season with their business operations, customer identification, and many, many other things. The Mayor has prioritized this work. He’s put his money, our money where his priorities are, and our office has went from three full time staff people, when I took this role, on to.. we have 16 now, individuals that are focused on helping small businesses grow.

AB: Oh, that’s great. So for our listeners, who might not know, can you tell us about the mission for the Office of Business Diversity and Compliance?

JM: Sure. Our primary mission is to ensure that small minority and owned businesses are aware of contracting opportunities in the public and private sector. So that means not only city government, but other government agencies like Shelby County government, Shelby County schools, the closet governmental agencies that you hear about like Downtown Memphis Commission, and Edge, the Economic Development Growth Engine, Airport, Matta, MLGW, and so forth. And we have some great partnerships with companies that you might recognize like FedEx, International paper, and then major construction companies like Turner construction as well as others.

AB: Awesome. Okay. So you’re saying that, that you guys assist with minority and women owned small businesses, kind of helping them to do business with the city of Memphis and those Memphis based companies. Correct?

JM: Absolutely. And I do want to add, Anna Bell, that it’s not just minority and women owned businesses, but any small business, no matter who owns it. We have a small business enterprise program, that’s like our sheltered market program where just small businesses compete against other small businesses for contract opportunities. So we help all local, small businesses in contracting with the city.

AB: Well, I really do appreciate you helping us better understand and paint that picture for us. You know, this is a particularly trying time for small businesses right now. Has the OBDC your resources been affected at all by the pandemic and have your operations been scaled back at all during this time

JM: Actually, Anna Bell, our operations have been scaled up. The OBDC in response to the pandemic. we instituted new programming, new funding opportunities with the help and leadership of the Mayor of our city council. We instituted a economic hardship emergency loan fund that offers small loans for businesses up to $5,000 dollars. The interest rate is about 2%, which is very low and there was no payment for the first 90 days. We still have funding available and businesses can contact our office at (901) 636-9300 to get more information. In addition to that, we also put in place what we call a business navigator outreach, which is for business navigators to call businesses and ask them, “how can we support you?” Because they don’t always know that we’re there or think that we’re there to support them. So we reach out to them, but they can also call us at that same number and get information about other funding sources like the small business administration. You heard how complicated that application is. Our business navigators are set up to help line by line. This is this, fill out those applications. We’re not the funder. So therefore there’s no conflict in us helping him. The point is Anna Bell, businesses are not alone in this pandemic. The OBDC, the mayor, we are here to help.

AB: You know, your office does play a very important role in providing assistance to those small businesses in the Memphis area. As you touched on talking about the loans, you know, can you continue to tell us about how your office is collaborating with those business owners and, you know, have the small businesses been able to successfully achieve those loans? Can you talk a little bit about that?

JM: Sure. Sure. As of today, we’ve lent about, and as I said, the maximum is about $5,000. We’ve lent almost a hundred thousand dollars to small businesses. So roughly about 30 or 40 businesses have received direct funds from the city. But in addition to that, Anna Bell, the economic development growth Incheon has what they call a need based loan. That is, I mean, a need based grant, I’m sorry. It’s a grant program. So that means they don’t have to pay it back. If those businesses are located in, what’s called a new market tax credit census track, which is based on their zip code, it really covers a lot of the Memphis Metro area. If they’re located in those areas, they can get up to $10,000 dollars in grant funds. And to my understanding, Edge has already given 67 grants to businesses. So they have, they allocated a million dollars of that funding to go to businesses. So again, businesses can contact our office to get in touch and get those applications completed. Yeah. There’s so many resources Anna Bell, and that’s why I’m so glad to be here with you and your viewers today to get this information out. Mediums like yours and your show is so important for the community. So I’m really grateful for everything that you all are doing.

AB: Well, we appreciate you too, helping us get the message out. Can you kind of tell us about what you’ve observed in the last few months with those Memphis based small businesses? Can you share maybe some of the behind the scenes conversations you might’ve had with some of the business owners right now? What are they saying?

JM: Sure. I’ll tell you, Anna Bell, it’s tough out here for small businesses. We know that statistically a small business only has zero to 10 days of capital on hand to support them. Zero to 10 days, Anna Bell. Businesses have had to, because of the Back to Business plan, and the shelter at home, they’ve had to close their doors. Business owners have had to apply for unemployment. There are, and remember this..focusing on black owned businesses, the medium wealth for a black household is 10 times less, than a non black, non African household. In 2053, it was predicted if we kept going the way that we were going, that the medium wealth for black families in America, was going to reach $8 dollars. $8 dollars Anna Bell. There’s nothing anyone can do with that. So businesses, small minority women owned businesses, black owned businesses in particular, Latino owned businesses who are already behind the eight ball, this pandemic has only worsened that. And that’s why Mayor Strickland, city council and our office, OBDC along with our partners knew that we had to be quickly responsive to businesses to help stand them up. We don’t know what’s going to happen after this is over. We don’t even predict that next year, these businesses will have recovered. But what we do hope is that our efforts have helped businesses be able to at least survive.

AB: You said earlier talking about, you know, supporting local, we’ve all heard the phrase support local, you know. Joann, in your opinion, how vital is it now that we collectively support our small businesses throughout the MidSouth? What can our listeners do to actively make a difference in supporting small businesses?

JM: (11:28)
I’m so glad you asked that question Anna Bell. For many years in our office, we have been saying exactly that: buy local, buy local. There are billions of dollars that are circulated in our economy, but for the last 20 years, only 1% of the receipts, in our economy has went to black owned businesses 1%. Yeah. Now you know that the city of Memphis, the city proper is 63% African American. Shelby County is about 54%. And the state of Tennessee in the state of Tennessee, Shelby County is the largest region with the most African American population. But yet, like I said, 1%. It is important, not just for black owned businesses, not just for minority owned businesses, or women owned businesses, but for our entire economy in our community that we buy local, that we support historically disadvantaged businesses like minority and women owned businesses and that we spend our money where we live. That helps to improve opportunities. It helps our economy. It helps education. It helps address crime, and we could go on and on, but the quality of life is dependent upon everyone buying local and spending our dollars here. So I do want to tell you, we have some efforts. Your listers can, what they can do is they can go to It’s a city-managed website that has hundreds of local owned businesses, everything from your plumber to your landscaper, to even hairstyles. You can go there and find a local owned businesses. The downtown Memphis commission has done a really great job in compiling some other lists and resources of buying downtown, buying local. There are other communities that are doing it. We have a tagline for that And you know what it is? It says, “love Memphis, buy Memphis, support your neighbors.” The only way we’re going to get through this pandemic and through improving our community Anna Bell is together. That’s the only way. We all have to come together and support each other.

AB: (14:13)
Yeah. And in terms of small business, you know, you’ve mentioned, you’ve had many years in business consulting and economic development. So in terms of small businesses, do you think it’s time for them to bunker down and try to better understand the effects of the recession? Or should they be aggressive maybe with their investments and tools like advertising and other growth tactics?

JM: (14:36)
Well, I think it’s a combination of those strategies. I think that it’s really important for businesses to look at their business model. You know, I have an MBA. Everybody didn’t go to business school, but it doesn’t matter because at our center, we offer workshops and classes that can help businesses. We are doing those virtually. And if I can give a shameless plug here, next week on Tuesday, June 23rd, we’re having our annual We Mean Business symposium, but it will be virtual. There will be millions of dollars in projects that will be presented, from city divisions, Shelby County schools, and private organizations like TVA and Turner construction. And I could go on and on, but they can check them out at Event Bright OBDC Events. And anyone can attend. We have a thousand slots for people to be able to log on virtually.

AB: (15:45)
I was going to ask that because with, you know, the restrictions right now, I didn’t know if you would do it in person versus virtually. So that’s great. Yeah.

JM: (15:53)
Yes. We definitely want to be safe, and there will be very limited in-person interaction. There’ll be some tech teams to support, but the event itself will be online and will be virtual. Businesses need to look at their business model. They need to be more aggressive about seeking out opportunities where they can fit in this new environment. There was the time we had 83 janitorial companies, um, in our certification directory, which that list I told you about 83. We’ve advised janitorial companies to look at now how they can specialize in COVID-19 cleanup. It doesn’t take any special certification. It just takes the thorough knowledge of how to clean up after a COVID, um, exposure. So we’ve seen businesses grow with examples like that, we are also encouraging businesses Anna Bell to look at how they can transition. Whether it’s staying in the industry they are in or growing and transitioning into a completely different one. Again, those are all things that our office along with some of our partners, I would be remiss not to mention Sarco at the center of the Black Business Association and Malka the Memphis Area Minority Contractors Association. We work with them all to support businesses. So I hope that answers your question.

AB: (17:32)
Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate that. You know, to wrap things up, Ms. Joanne, I’d like to give you the floor for a minute. What general advice would you give to any small business during this time?

JM: (17:47)
Stay focused, stay hopeful, utilize the resources that are at hand, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for support. As entrepreneurs we know you’re risk takers. We know you’re independent, but you have a whole structure here to help. Mayor Strickland cares about small businesses, and he has put in place a structure that is meant to prioritize and support them. And let me be clear. He’s the mayor of the city of Memphis, but we are Shelby County strong. We support businesses, um, the counties around our region. So they’re welcome to come to our office. There’s no restrictions. And I think that’s important to say on this call, but I’ll end it by saying we are here to support and we do mean business.

AB: (18:48)
Joanne we sincerely appreciate your time and your insight today and especially your service to the community. Thank you.

JM: (18:55)
Thank you. Thank you for having me Anna Bell and thank you for all that you do as well.

AB: (19:00)
We appreciate it. Happy to do it. Until next time I’m Anna Bell sending you all well wishes.

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