Entrepreneurial Landscape in West Memphis, Arkansas

By Shelby Jo Fenter

I recently finished my undergraduate degree at The University of Mississippi and returned to my hometown of West Memphis, AR, in May of 2014.  I immediately began working for my brothers company, Fenter Physical Therapy, doing marketing and public relations.

Through this experience, I have attended many events within the community and been exposed to our “entrepreneurial scene.”  Our local Chamber of Commerce recently had a workshop, “Saving Your Small Town: Homegrown Community and Economic Development.”  This event brought in speakers to discuss entrepreneurship in our area. The first thing I noticed about our entrepreneurial scene is that our people are very eager. There were about 50 people at the workshop, anxious to engage and learn about ideas for our community.

A focal point of the workshop was youth entrepreneurship.  They strongly encouraged older, wiser business people to find a youth and mentor them through their entrepreneurial experience. Funding opportunities for young kids excites them.The kids begin to make a little money and then they progress to get their friends involved. Our local community college, Mid-South Community College, has had several speakers on this topic.  They are continually finding ways to get young kids involved in business opportunities.  The have also developed a very popular BOSS club, Business Opportunities for Student Success.  Youth entrepreneurship is on the rise in our area.

Each week our Chamber also partners with a different business within our community to host Business After Hours.   This is a more relaxed environment for business owners.The majority of business owners routinely come to events such as these to network and support one another. I am very impressed with our local Chamber of Commerce.

Another example of progressive entrepreneurship within our area is our local arts council’s “Carnival” production.  Each summee, Delta Arts broadcasts a televised auction. Businesses sponsor a board and auction off local services and products. The local Junior Auxiliary volunteers their time to answer phone calls and bids. I have participated in this event for the past five years. It is an awesome model of our community, encouraging our citizens to shop local.

One issue that I have realized is that being so close to Memphis is a blessing and a curse. The goal of developing a product or service on this side of the bridge is very present. However, we have to find more ways to encourage people to spend a little more money using local services rather than taking their business to bigger, maybe cheaper companies in Memphis.

Essentially, I believe that our community is heading in the right direction with our entrepreneurial scene.  It is very active and present and continually looking for ways to improve.

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