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Northeast Mississippi hub considered by many as economic development model

Tupelo recognized — again — for being ‘All-America’ city

TUPELO — Business folks are counting on the Tupelo’s recognition by the National Civic League as one of America’s greatest communities to attract new businesses to the state’s most industrialized county.

For the third time in NCL’s 50-year history, Tupelo earned recognition as one of 10 All-America cities. Tupelo is one of only two Mississippi cities that has been designated as such — Meridian was the other — and one of a handful of cities in the nation to receive the designation three times.

“Tupelo’s success is a result of a succession of people who are willing to take a critical look at their community, identify opportunities for progress and work together to make the city a place where everyone can be successful,” said Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough.

With a population of slightly more than 35,000, Tupelo has been considered by many national observers as a model of small-town economic development success. Almost 60 new facilities have been established in the last 10 years. More than 600 industries are located within 50 miles of Tupelo. The furniture business alone employs about 27,000 workers.

“The designation is indeed significant, a three-star national quality award and recognition for the Magnolia state and for Tupelo, Lee County, Mississippi,” said Harry Martin, longtime president of Community Development Foundation in Tupelo.

Tupelo has successfully competed against major cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Orlando, that have a ready workforce, metropolitan amenities, community assets and quality of life to land new plants, distribution centers and other facilities.

Jimmy Heidel, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, said Tupelo is a shining example of what good leadership, cooperation and strategic planning can do for a community.

“If every city in Mississippi had this type of commitment to leadership, cooperation and long-range planning, they’d be amazed at what they could accomplish,” Heidel said.

Debbie Woodrick Hall, executive director of the Northeast Mississippi United Way Foundation, said she was a teenager when Tupelo received its first All-America city designation in 1969.

“I remember the excitement we all felt,” she said. “There is an emotion that goes with living here. The ‘Tupelo Spirit’ is more than a noun; it’s a verb. It lives inside us. As a member of that team, I wanted more than anything for us to convey that to the jurors. I wanted to make the people back here who make the ‘Tupelo Spirit’ work every single day proud of Tupelo again.”

Lewis Whitfield, bank president of Community Federal Bank in Tupelo, who, as Hall described him, carried the torch for the city, said the competition was tough, but “we had a good story to tell and we had a good team to tell it.”

Whitfield said the award is another drawing card to lure companies to northeast Mississippi.

“This is an important award because it showcases our community to the nation,” he said. “We’ve received favorable press throughout the country and it affirms for the community development workers that there is national recognition and it can pay off in terms of economic development down the road.”

William Moran, plant manager for FMC-Tupelo, said the strength of Tupelo lies in “the abundance of volunteers who give generously of their time and money to programs which provide very significant value.”

“Industrial and commercial competitors work together as teamplayers in a manner reflecting community needs rise above competitive situations,” he said. “Mayor Glenn McCullough provides great leadership to assure that community needs are understood and supported.”

Hall said competition was intense among the 30 cities that were finalists for the All-America awards. Team leaders from Tallahassee, Fla. brought a 120-voice boys’ choir, Hall said.

“Our presentation was just us,” she said, of the 27-member group from Tupelo. “The interesting part was preparing ourselves for 10 minutes of questions and answers. It caused us to look at where our weaknesses might be and where we still have room for improvement. One of the questions…was about our work toward developing leadership opportunities for youth and women. We were able to tell about our youth leadership summit.”

Established in 1997, the summit provides Northeast Mississippi high school sophomores with opportunities to develop leadership and teamwork skills.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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