Implementation of the SC2 pilot initiative in Memphis began in September 2011, after an initial planning and assessment period earlier in the year. The team began with a broad mandate to support Memphis in addressing 12 economic development priorities identified during the assessment phase. The priorities focused on addressing the city’s major challenges—high poverty, population decline, and reduced public sector capacity—while leveraging its strengths in history, arts, and culture, its vibrant health care sector, its several anchor institutions, and its popular and experienced mayor.
This profile summarizes the first 18 months of the SC2 pilot in Memphis, from September 2011 through March 2013. The profile describes the local context, membership of the SC2 team, the local stakeholders the team worked with, how the team worked, and the activities and accomplishments to which the team contributed.
The city of Memphis was hit hard by the 2007–2009 recession and is still struggling to recover. The city also faces historic levels of racial and economic disparity. These conditions, in addition to declining municipal revenues, have hindered the city’s ability to make inroads into lowering its 20 percent poverty rate and combating the challenges of serving a low-income, under-educated population.
Notwithstanding these challenges, Memphis and its downtown are in the midst of a resurgence. The city is home to a growing number of medical and health care employers, as well as a significant number of anchor institutions, philanthropies, and universities. Memphis is known for its contributions to arts and culture, and city government is also seeking to build upon Memphis’s historic and cultural assets. This work is being championed by a talented and enthusiastic mayor who brings connections to key decision makers at the county, regional, and national level.
The SC2 team in Memphis demonstrated several of the intended goals of the SC2 pilot, including improving the relationship between local and federal government, partnering for economic growth, and enhancing local capacity. In the first 18 months of the pilot, the SC2 team established itself as a valued resource for the mayor’s staff and for individuals and organizations working in the city on economic development. The team achieved many small-scale “wins” for the city by cutting through federal bureaucracy and assisting with problem solving. The SC2 team lead also made a major contribution in helping to bring the city’s numerous strategic plans into alignment with key mayoral priorities.
During the first 18 months of the pilot initiative, the SC2 team in Memphis was not able to make progress in encouraging regional collaboration nor was it able to enhance city government’s internal capacity for economic development in a lasting way. The team’s effectiveness was limited by the turnover in its membership and the fact that part-time members were challenged to free up sufficient time to work on the initiative. Another challenge to regional coordination was the widespread perception in Memphis that the SC2 pilot was a city initiative and not necessarily one that required participation by the county or state. Nevertheless, the first 18 months of the pilot demonstrated the value of the initiative to the city and laid the groundwork for further accomplishments under the leadership of the second full-time SC2 team lead.
The Memphis SC2 team was exemplary in its ability to navigate the city’s complicated and often chaotic bureaucratic system, adding enhanced staff capacity, speeding up timelines, and even helping to set priorities in combining all 42 strategic plans. The SC2 team lead, who acted as a one-stop hotline for any federal question, was widely appreciated for her ombudsman role.