Mayor AC Wharton looks to create business opportunities for African Americans

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis Mayor A C Wharton introduced new ideas Sunday pushing for ways to give African Americans a way to be business owners rather than government employees.

Elmore Nickleberry has worked for the Memphis Sanitation Department for 56 years.

"It occurred to me then that on the last day he leaves there, he will have basically what he had on the first pay day over 50 years ago," Wharton said.  "Namely, he'll pick up a check and he'll leave.  That's what he will have."

Wharton said Memphis would be better off if people like Nickleberry had more ownership in it.

"I really do believe it's time now for us to start owning America, as opposed to working for America," Wharton said.

Wharton introduced an idea Sunday night that would shake things up.

"If we were to take just one section of the city, and say to the members of 1733, ya'll own this piece, we're going to sign a contract with you from the city, so they know the work is going to be there," Wharton said.  "We're not going to shut down, leave town, it's going to be there."

Wharton has already taken one step towards promoting his idea.

"They become owners in that," Wharton said.  "Then, we take the trucks that we're now repairing in our garage and they set up a garage that they own."

The Memphis City Council is debating privatizing the car inspection process.  Wharton asked to add a clause to the resolution that said the city should look to contract business enterprises owned by women and minorities.

Wharton said he was in the process of developing the proposal to create more ownership opportunities but said he does not have anything in writing yet.

The idea was introduced at a meeting organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The Black Business Association said 20 percent of the contractors in Memphis are African American, but the association said only just over one percent of the revenue the city pays to companies goes to African American-owned companies.

Two African American contractors told the elected officials at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference meeting that they want some solutions.

"Lord, give our African American elected officials the courage to support our businesses," said Michael Eskridge of Allied Electrical Contractors.

"Me and my wife work 16-18 hours a day only to be punished because we have been blessed to learn the system, learn our business, and grow our business," said Winston Gibson of Gibson Mechanical Contractors.  "We have too many roadblocks."

Gibson said he denied a contract because his business is no longer considered at a disadvantage because of its income over the past three years.

Officials encouraged people at the meeting to bring their issues to them so they can work on solutions.

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