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Why Not Memphis? Tech901 Plans to Build a New Memphis Economy Through Technology

Robert Montague and Steve Denegri are serious about helping to build a new Memphis economy. So serious, in fact, that the pair has recently launched a non-profit called Tech901 to make that vision a reality.

“We want Memphians to see ourselves as a technology city, and in so doing, we hope to attract new business here,” says Steve, a former analyst who focused on the high-tech industry in his work for Morgan Keegan. “We are hoping that by building talent and building a future, and building aspirations toward technology with our young adults, that reality can happen.”

With a mutual background in technology from a Wall Street perspective, both men understand the intricate parts that work together to allow an industry to grow and thrive in an area. It begins with a well-qualified workforce, which is why one facet of their approach with Tech901 will be to attract and train young people in Memphis who want a career and livable wage in the tech industry.

“Part of our strategy here is going to be reaching students and talking to them about STEM careers, in general, computing technology specifically,” says Robert. “We’re coupling with Cook Systems to recruit into their internal code school, but also to use their development process to start a Memphis-based software development and testing center. We hired an instructor as part of a partnership with Boys & Girls Club to train high school students in the CompTIA fundamentals of A+.”

Such training would provide young adults entering the workforce with an industry recognized technology certification that could lead to coding and other high-end tech jobs. On the lower end of the scale, it could lead to corporate help desk and PC technician-type of work, or contract manufacturing.

However, in the absence of a strong and thriving tech-oriented job pool in Memphis, simply building a qualified workforce still misses the mark in creating a new Memphis economy. In such, the second facet of Tech901’s goal will be working to attract tech companies to the MidSouth to help build that economy. In the early 2,000s, there were 10,000 high-tech jobs in Memphis. Now it’s down to 6,000. “There are a lot of areas around the country that became hubs of technology and left us behind,” says Steve.

Despite being left behind, Memphis has an advantage over the well-known tech hubs such as Silicon Valley. The supply of workers in the tech industry is tight on both coasts. Added to that, costs of living and running a business in those areas is much higher. With its low cost of living and multiple small business incentives, Memphis has been placed on CNN’s list of the Top 10 places in the country to start a new business. “We want to build a case with employers that are not here yet that this is a place to come, with low cost of living and quality training,” says Robert.

“I hope we become very impactful in building a new Memphis economy with technology as part of it, and really addressing some of the core needs we have in employment,” he says. “The success path to get there is going to have to go through an education/job training route; in a large way, success will be supply driven and our ability to recruit people into these types of careers, and to connect them or provide them with very good job training.”

“We definitely intend to leverage the best the Memphis has to offer,” Steve adds. “We fully intend to engage existing for-profit companies to help us complete our mission, which is restoring Memphis to 10,000 high-tech jobs within 10 years.”

In the meantime, both men reiterate the importance of building and attracting a qualified workforce. They want to reach out to parents and students considering STEM careers, or who want to add to their college education with practical tech skills. Additionally, their goal is to assist high school students who want to be CompTIA certified, and then to open doors for them by working with corporations that might be considering outsourcing but could potentially avoid it by moving their businesses here. “We want these businesses to consider bringing work to Memphis,” says Robert. “They’re having a hard time finding talent, so we want to engage them with the question: Why not Memphis?”

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