Report shows Shelby County leads state in first-quarter business growth

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Federal Reserve said in 2020 about 200,000 businesses closed for good nationwide. But from the ashes of an economic downturn, there are new opportunities for businesses.

The state of Tennessee is seeing a historic surge in new businesses.

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The greatest increase in a single year, with Shelby County leading the state.

“We’re taking advantage of the opportunity to feed our community healthier options,” said RJ Groove, Plant Based Heat owner.

Ralph Johnson, or RJ Groove as many people know him in Memphis for spending more than 30 years on radio airwaves, traded in his headset for a chef’s hat.

“Being home for the pandemic, the first round of the stay-at-home mandate. I was at home, working out, cooking and I started posting food and in my little world, it went viral,” said RJ Groove.

Being jobless led to RJ Groove’s business Plant Based Heat, a vegan restaurant putting a healthy spin on traditional comfort food.

“We get an opportunity to share new dishes with our community. Things we didn’t know growing up. We knew fried chicken, now we have fried oyster mushrooms that taste like fried chicken,” he said.

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And he’s not the only new business sprouting during the pandemic.

According to the Tennessee Quarterly Business and Economic Indicators report, in the first quarter of 2021 business filings grew 55-percent from 2020 first-quarter filings, with Shelby County leading the state.

“Historically we have seen people start businesses in an economic crisis,” said Jessica Taveua.

Taveua is the Interim Director at Epicenter, a non-profit entrepreneurship hub that offers resources for people starting businesses in Shelby County.

“We have definitely seen an increase in people coming to us for resources like capital, or technical support, or space,” said Taveua.

We’re also told Epicenter has seen a 40 percent increase in requests for entrepreneurial assistance between summer 2019-2020 and summer 2020-2021.

Experts shared why we have seen such a huge increase in new business filings across the state and especially here in the Memphis area.

“Any time we create new businesses it means people are optimistic about the future, they’re optimistic about being successful,” said John Gnuschke, Consulting Economist.

While this may be the largest year-over-year gain in history, Gnuschke said these statistics may not show the full picture.

“2020 was a disastrous year for the economy, a disastrous year for business, so any kind of improvement will show up as a large percentage increase,” said Gnuschke.

Shelby County saw the largest number of new filings followed by Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton Counties.

“Shelby County is one the largest counties in the state with one of the largest population groups,” said Gnuschke.

Plant Based Heat will hold its grand opening Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

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