Local leaders tour Tupelo for advice

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 1999

TUPELO – More than 20 local leaders traveled to Tupelo Thursday to see what that area has done to create a booming economy – and how to create a regional economic development group for the entire Miss-Lou.

The Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation, which is largely supported by the private sector, recruits industry to a 22-county area around the city.

And the organization has seen results: 250 new industries or expansions in Lee County alone in the last decade, including a $41 million Bryan Foods plant that opened in Lee County on Monday.

Email newsletter signup

The keys to success, said CDF Director Harry Martin, are teamwork, staying focused on long-term goals, listening to industry’s needs and pounding the pavement to recruit industry.

&uot;If you’re thinking that you’re going to sit back and let industry come to you, … it just doesn’t work that way,&uot; Martin said. &uot;You’ve got to hog-tie them to get them to come here.&uot;

Martin insists the CDF has no magic secrets for attracting industry. Instead, he heeds the lessons he has learned in his 50 years with the CDF – tips he shared with the delegates from Adams County and Concordia Parish:

Listen to what prospective industries want. The group’s first industrial prospect was turned off because the CDF tried to get him to select certain sites instead of asking what his site criteria were.

Primarily recruit industries based on agriculture, natural resources and manufacturing. &uot;The rest (of your economy) is soft money,&uot; Martin said.

Do what’s necessary to get good infrastructure. Industries will not locate in areas without utilities and a four-lane highway with an interchange, he said.

Invest 50 percent of the group’s money into assets like land. Keep a detailed inventory of sites, and save the prime sites for the prime industries.

Set long-term goals with the help of the best consultants in the business. Stay focused on your main task – to get as many good-paying jobs for your areas as possible.

Hold the organization’s leadership and workers accountable for meeting those goals. If the CDF doesn’t meet its goals – 1,000 new manufacturing jobs and 1,700 service jobs this year alone – they do not get paid.

Keep technical people on staff – the CDF has 14 – who are ready to give prospective industries portfolios full of information on the area and its business incentives. The CDF gets portfolios to prospects in a day’s time.

Have a sophisticated system of contacts in business and industry. That can go a long way toward located prospects, Martin said.

Don’t start training programs if you do not already have jobs to offer those people. &uot;Otherwise, you’re just exporting those people,&uot; Martin said.

Most of all, get private investors to buy into the idea and make it happen. &uot;Organizations don’t solve problems – people do,&uot; Martin said.

Next, it will be up to the Miss-Lou’s business and industry leaders to set up a meeting to set goals and plan out how such an organization would be set up, said Natchez Mayor Larry &uot;Butch&uot; Brown.

&uot;What we lack is a commitment from business and industrial leadership in our community,&uot; Brown said. &uot;We can’t just let government handle it.&uot;

&uot;I’d love to see the private sector follow up on this,&uot; said Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland.

For his part, outgoing Natchez Chamber of Commerce President Mike Thompson said he believes the regional economic development concept could work in Adams County/Concordia Parish area.

&uot;What (Martin) said was right on track,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;It is easy to see why they’re so successful.&uot;

If there is one thing Mitzi Burkley of Britton & Koontz Bank took away from the presentations, it was the importance of getting a cross-section of the community to support the regional concept.

&uot;You’ve got to have leaders who are motivated and who want this to happen,&uot; Burkley said. &uot;And you’ve got to be willing to change. Otherwise, the rest of the world will pass you by.&uot;