Case Study:
Small business growth in Memphis

Client: Community LIFT Memphis

Project goal:

Mass Economics was retained by Community LIFT, an economic and community development organization focused on revitalizing low-income neighborhoods in Memphis, to create a framework for a core city strategy by adapting existing incentives and tools to make them applicable to core city neighborhoods.  In developing recommendations, the project required an in-depth assessment of the existing economic development tools and incentives as well as the identification of barriers or challenges preventing urban businesses, particularly small businesses, from accessing and using them.  This project aligned with Mass Economics’ knowledge of city-based development initiatives, small business challenges and opportunities, and issues of inclusion.


The project team conducted an in-depth field study that included three roundtables on real estate development, community development, and small business and inclusion topics as well as nearly 20 interviews with various Memphis-based economic development experts, real estate investors, small business owners, and other leaders with an interest in Memphis’s economic development.  The roundtables and interviews focused on gaining a deep understanding of the existing tools and incentives available to Memphis’ businesses, pinpointing the challenges and barriers preventing small businesses from accessing them, and discussing the feasibility and potential impact of both changes to existing tools and incentives as well as new ones that would benefit small businesses specifically.  Feedback from this fieldwork was critical to uncovering those strategies that would work most successfully in Memphis given the city’s unique history and context.  This fieldwork was augmented by analyses of economic and demographic trends in Memphis and the broader region.


After conducting extensive fieldwork, secondary research, and quantitative analyses – and in close collaboration with the client – the project team developed a prioritized list of 12 potential pilot initiatives to drive business investment and growth in downtown Memphis.  These included specific changes to existing incentives to make them more accessible to small businesses, some new tools and incentives to address the unique challenges faced by small businesses, an initiative to enhance urban market analysis and data for use by inner-city small businesses, and initiatives for aligning with other economic development efforts.  Each initiative included a description as well as a list of potential partnering organizations and proposed timing for implementation.  Of the 12 proposed pilot initiatives, six had a 3-6 month range, five had a 6-12-month range, and one was an ongoing effort that ranged from 0-36 months.