Entering his senior year as a business major, Alden Knipe wanted to start impacting the Memphis community beyond the Rhodes campus. His first stop in looking for an internship at a local business was the Rhodes Career Services office. “The internship program they offer is amazing,” says Knipe. “They give you a list of companies, and once you pick, they’ll contact the companies for you and set up interviews.” In the fall of 2015, Knipe began as an unpaid intern at the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County (EDGE). EDGE, founded in 20ll, was formed to create one unified body to manage multiple economic development agencies that help grow businesses and share information and resources on economic growth and development plans for Memphis.
“My first day there was really interesting, because I was kind of thrust into this position at this really small office,” says Knipe. Because the office is so small—6 people—his responsibilities range beyond the scope of a normal intern and he constantly takes on new roles. Every day, Knipe works on tasks such as database management and data analysis. He also manages the online records for EDGE projects, including for recipients of the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Tax) program. In this program, the city actually owns the land where the companies work for the term of the PILOT agreement. They pay a smaller fee to the city than they would have in property taxes, thus effectively lowering the tax burden. However, each company has to earn its place in the program. “All of the recipients have to meet certain criteria and they have to submit reports to us. We then post those reports on our database.”
Another aspect of the PILOT program is a spending requirement with local minority, women, and small businesses. Accountability is therefore a key part of the EDGE system, and Knipe’s job is necessary to maintain that. He compiles the expenditures of these companies to determine which PILOTs contribute the most back to the community and which local companies are benefiting.
“It’s important to see how the PILOT program is helping out minority-owned businesses so EDGE can evaluate the economic impact on the city, and how to improve our programs for the future,” says Knipe. “What I like about working with EDGE is that I see the effort and the intentionality behind growing small businesses. EDGE has many programs beyond the PILOT program—for instance, we have ICED (Inner City Economic Development) loans, an economic gardening program that targets areas of the city that need revitalization by providing short term forgivable loans for improvements. Giving a small business the money needed for simple improvements to the facade and structure of its building can allow the company to thrive.”
Beyond the day-to-day work, Knipe has been present at board meetings, and this semester he’ll begin helping prepare presentation materials for those meetings. He has been promoted to a paid position within the company, and hopes to continue being involved with EDGE after graduation. Being a part of EDGE has encouraged him to continue helping the city grow and maintain a healthy economy. “I really want to stay in Memphis. When I was a freshman, I was convinced I wanted to go back home to Richmond after school. Every year that I stay in Memphis, I like the city more and more. Especially now with the work I’ve done with EDGE, I can really see myself living here. I think the most important lesson that I’ve learned in my short time with EDGE was best said by Kirby Salton, the owner of a small business that received multiple large contracts from PILOT recipients: ‘So [for] any company, a good barometer or test to tell if that company is going to be able to assimilate in this community is whether or not they are willing to accept what Memphis is. We are a unique, diverse community. And I think it makes us a better place because of it.’ ”
By Sam Clark ’17
(To learn more about EDGE’s involvement in the Memphis community, visit http://www.growth-engine.org/)