DATA: Chamber Workforce, Tanking Employment and Credibility
Local & National News | June 11, 2024
Based on history, the Chamber should have little if any credibility. Take for example workforce development.

Written By: Joe B. Kent

The Greater Memphis Chamber has either been at the helm or in close proximity to the systemic 10-year botching of the local workforce development system. And the botching shows up in the data.

Per the Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently released annual data, Shelby County was the only county among 10 Chamber self-selected peer city counties to have contracting employment in 2023 (BLS).

Memphis Shelby employment decreased by 1.4% from 493,623 in 2022 to 486,691 in 2023. The average employment increase for the Chamber self-selected peer city counties was coincidentally 1.4%. Those peer city counties are Birmingham, Indianapolis, Louisville, New Orleans, Kansas City, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Nashville, Memphis, and Milwaukee.

Had Shelby County had a 1.4% increase like its peer cities, that would have meant roughly $29M more in Memphis and Shelby County local tax revenue. And that analytical estimate is without any of the locally overused economic multipliers.

The Commercial Appeal reported the following December 2023 Ted Townsend statement regarding the Jackson Avenue Accelerated Skills Center: “Thanks to the generosity of the Belz family and our Chairman’s Circle, we’ve already raised $2 million for this innovative training center and expect to start renovations in early 2024.” (Commercial Appeal).

But as of June 6, 2024, no renovations are occurring at the pictured above Jackson Avenue Accelerated Skills Center. Those that have been most closely associated with Chamber workforce efforts are Meka Egwuekwe, Ted Townsend, Gregory Duckett, and Ben Adams.

The Commercial Appeal article also mentions a trip by the Chamber Chairman’s Circle to Valencia Florida in January 2021 that jumpstarted the thinking on an Accelerated Skills Center. Good Lord, that is three and half years ago! Where is the sense of urgency with the “visionary” Chairman’s Circle?


Another Chamber credibility concern arises out of the often-touted claim that Memphis recovered quicker than other cities from COVID. There is no indication of the former in the data when reviewing the employment growth trends from 2020.

Employment percentage growth data from 2010, the baseline year before EDGE began in 2011, shows employment growth for Nashville Davidson at 31.9%, Chattanooga Hamilton 21.5%, Knoxville Knox 19.2%, National Peers 11.5%, and Memphis Shelby at 4.7%. And the 2023 Memphis Shelby employment decline is also apparent above.

Sadly, over the last 10 years, the Greater Memphis Chamber has been either at the helm or in close proximity to several public workforce botches to include GMACW, WIN, Upskill 901 and most recently Workforce Mid-South. And now the Chamber has started the Greater Memphis Workforce Development Board with nothing going on at the Jackson Avenue Accelerated Skills Center. Again, deficient percentage employment growth data, over time, is an indication of intentional and repeated botching of the workforce development system.


The root cause of Memphis economic challenges resides in the systemic botching of the workforce development system and cultural stifling of local small business. It’s not a lack of corporate recruitments. Excessive corporate PILOTs, primarily for corporations already located in Memphis, are a public policy product of backwards and locally oppressive racially diverse public leadership.

Other data trends for percentage total wage growth, since 2010, show Nashville Davidson at 113%, Chattanooga Hamilton 89.7%, Knoxville Knox 86.3%, National Peers 65.4%, and Memphis Shelby at 53.2%. The former comes with an excessive number of PILOTs that are supposed to accelerate total wage growth. In 2023, per the Comptroller PILOT report, Nashville Davidson had 42 PILOTs, Chattanooga Hamilton 35, Knoxville Knox 51 and Memphis Shelby 528.

As far as percentage average wage growth since 2010, Nashville Davidson is at 61.5%, Knoxville Knox 56.2%, Chattanooga Hamilton 56.1%, National Peers 49.3%, and Memphis Shelby at 46.4%.

Finally, arguably the most revealing datapoint of a local economy is establishments which are an indicator of small business vitality. Memphis Shelby ranks last in the Tennessee and national peer group for establishments per 1k population. Nashville Davidson is at 48, Chattanooga Hamilton 35, Knoxville Knox 33, National Peers 40, and Memphis Shelby at 27.

Versus Knoxville Knox, this means Memphis Shelby is approximately 6,000 establishments deficient to competitively power the local economy. So, in the end, the Greater Memphis Chamber lacks credibility, all while we await the results of the MATA scandal…. For more information go to

Check The Facts

Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Quarterly Census of Employment Wages.

Commercial Appeal. December 15, 2023. Memphis Chamber to open $15M workforce development center -

Tennessee Comptroller. 2023 PILOT Report.

Learn more about Joe B Kent

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant

Joe B Kent

Career and Workforce Development Consultant


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