Tupelo shares economic success story

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 17, 1999

TUPELO – The Community Development Foundation, an economic development group serving 22 counties in northeast Mississippi, has come a long way in its 50 years. Director Harry Martin told more than 20 Adams County and Concordia Parish leaders of the CDF’s history when the group visited Tupelo Thursday to see how the area built its economy – and whether that success could be repeated in the Miss-Lou.

The CDF started as a largely agricultural organization. In fact, it really did not become an industrial recruitment group until a bull stud farm it owned went out of business, Martin said.

Soon after, an industrial prospect visited Lee County, and CDF officials tried to steer him to many different possible sites. After almost giving up the search, he decided to build a manufacturing plant on the site of the former farm.

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Now, said Martin, &uot;we build where they want to build, not where we think they ought to build.&uot;

The CDF’s way of doing business has grown up quite a bit since then. The organization gets one third of its funds from proceeds from its investments, one third from its membership and one third from government grants.

It now has about 1,200 to 1,500 acres of available land.

To market such sites, the CDF has built up an extensive network of industrial contacts.

And when a prospect comes to call, the CDF’s employees can print him a portfolio about what the area has to offer new industries – in less than one day. Some data is available on the CDF’s Internet site.

And if the CDF does not reach its goals – 1,000 new manufacturing jobs and 1,700 service jobs this year alone – they do not get paid.

&uot;We don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by other things,&uot;&160;Martin said. &uot;If there’s not money in it, we don’t want it.&uot;

A Council of Governments has its offices in the CDF’s Tupelo building. The council, with members from every governing body in the CDF’s coverage area, meets to discuss things they can do to further economic development.

If the sites Martin showed a bus full of Miss-Lou leaders Thursday are any indication, the CDF’s approach to economic development has worked well.

The organization has built several industrial parks and training sites in its coverage area. One such park is a 2,000-acre site in south Lee County that houses 28 industries, including 14 Fortune 500 companies.

The CDF opened a 200-employee food processing plant Monday near that industrial park. The plant hired 200 workers. The region is also the United States’ second-largest furniture manufacturing area, second to North Carolina.

Other successes have included a $60 million compressor plant, a factory that produces enough dog food to fee 800,000 dogs a day, and a 1,500-worker Cooper Tire plant that, at one time, had been sought by Natchez.

In all, 222 industries call the area home. And such economic success can be seen in the new projects Tupelo has taken on, including a $20 million downtown renovation and an old shopping center that has been turned into a coliseum.

Other investments the city has made in recent years have been passing $22.7 million in urban renewal bonds and passing a 10-mill tax increase to four-lane the city’s major thoroughfares.

Tupelo is also building a new city hall. And the school district has issued more than $27 million in bonds to improve school facilities.

&uot;I don’t know if there is any secret magic to it,&uot; said Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough Jr., &uot;but we are doing something right.&uot;