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Invading Nashville with Memphis Soul

The following is a feature in the Memphis Crossroads Magazine. Click here to view the issue in its entirety.

Memphis invaded Nashville in February with an event that showcased our city’s strengths in business, of course, but also our good-time side with plenty of great Memphis music and food.
The Greater Memphis Chamber and the Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau helped bring Memphis soul and flavor to the Tennessee Capitol with an event called #MEM2NASH.
“Our purpose is simple,” said Greater Memphis Chamber President & CEO, Phil Trenary. “We want to represent all of Memphis with a unified voice and show Memphis businesses and tourist attractions to all Tennessee state legislators.”
To do this, the group transformed one long hallway in the typically drab Legislative Plaza building into a Memphis showcase. The walls were draped and lit to show off some of Memphis’ biggest tourist attractions like Graceland.
Memphis products were stacked high in a pyramid, of course, to display featured Memphis businesses, such as AutoZone Inc., Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Pyramid Vodka, Wiseacre Brewery, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., Nike, FedEx, Ducks Unlimited, Bass Pro Shops, Electrolux and more.


“It put Memphis on the map,” said Rep. Raumesh Akbari. “Everybody was just in awe of the display and they really had to pay attention. I don’t think any city has done anything like that in Legislative Plaza.”
The Made in Memphis display was the first part of the MEM2NASH invasion. From there, Chamber staff and members met with House and Senate leaders, the state’s Constitutional Officers, and members of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Cabinet.    
“Memphis put her best foot forward,” said Sen. Mark Norris. “It made a strong impression. The Chamber generated a lot of positive buzz that lasted for several weeks on Capitol Hill.”
Among those in the Memphis delegation, were members of the Chairman’s Circle, Government Affairs Council, the Chamber’s Board of Directors. Small businesses and even members of SoundCheck, the Chamber’s Young Professional Council, were represented.

Isaac Rodriguez, co-founder & CEO/CSO of SweetBio, Inc., said the MEM2NASH day was an example of how Memphis respects its young professionals and gives them the opportunity to succeed.
“My SweetBio team was given the opportunity to share our story with state leaders and were empowered by everyone believing in and inspired by us,” he said. “It is refreshing and I am honored to be part of a system that values the input and talent of young professionals.”
The Chamber had a slate of legislative priorities that they shared with leaders. Those issues included the proposed expansion of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (which could bring more than 2,000 jobs to Memphis), funding for a pilot program that would allow high school students to earn college credits, and funding for business assistance and incentives.

The Chamber did not realize that this display of unity would be critical for the fight ahead, when less than a month later the State House of Representatives considered a bill that would have allowed some areas within the Memphis city limits to de-annex themselves. The bill had serious financial implications for the city and could have cost the City and its taxpayers up to $78 million, according to projections from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’ office.
“Our MEM2NASH trip really laid the groundwork and established important relationships between our business leadership and state legislative officials that was extremely helpful during the legislative debate on de-annexation,” said Kelly Rayne, Senior Vice President of Community Development for the Chamber. “While we are not opposed to shrinking the City’s footprint, we do advocate a process that is orderly and in the best interest of all Shelby County citizens.”
Memphis fought for further consideration of the bill’s impact, led by elected officials and supported by Chamber leaders and members of the Memphis business community. Because of their actions, the bill was eventually voted into Summer Study Committee, with lawmakers saying they would like more time to study the implications and impacts of the proposed de-annexations.

The MEM2NASH event culminated with a blowout reception at B.B. King’s Blues Club right on Second Avenue, Nashville’s front porch. The venue was packed with legislative officials and business leaders as they celebrated together with Memphis music and food.
The entire event was born partly from the frustrations of Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News and a Chairman’s Circle member. Barnes has experience working with the legislature as a member of the Tennessee Press Association, of which he’s the vice president and also heads its government affairs committee.
“Too often when you deal with somebody not from Memphis, you say ‘Hi, I’m Eric Barnes, I’m from Memphis,’ and they say ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ or, ‘oh, not, Memphis!’ There’s all this negativity and it drove me nuts. I’ve lived here 20 years now and the lack of appreciation for the good things going on here is amazing.”
Barnes wanted to change the Memphis narrative.
“I said to Trenary, ‘you should get up there and try to sell the good stuff — Crosstown, and the Greenline, and Beale Street Landing, and Overton Square, and the fact that you have these very successful Fortune 500 companies,” Barnes said. “The point is that all cities have flaws. So be it. But Memphis has more than just flaws. We have many great things happening. It’s a city where, contrary to the view of some legislators, there are a lot of really happy people, and where a whole range of efforts have come to fruition in terms of changing Memphis for the better.”
So, he teamed up with Regena Bearden, chief marketing officer at the Memphis CVB, and the Greater Memphis Chamber to do just that.   
“Our goal was to build stronger relations and open communications between Memphis and Shelby County officials and our state representatives,” Bearden said. “We were encouraged by the welcoming reception and appreciation that our state representatives showed, and we’re confident this effort will improve communications and result in long-lasting success for our community.

Story by: Toby Sells
Photos by: Jenny Fish

Posted: 7/26/2016 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Capitol, Community, Deannexation, Development, Hill, Invasion, MEM2NASH, Memphis, Nashville, Policy, Public

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (