What do Tupelo, Booneville, Columbus, Corinth and Lee County have in common? All were recently ranked in the elite group of America’s top 100 small towns for corporate facilities.
According to the March 2000 issue of Site Selection magazine, an international publication that receives worldwide exposure, the list included cities and towns outside metropolitan areas. Tupelo and the Lee County area were featured, with Tupelo ranking fifth and Lee County listed at No. 92 in the U.S. Because the list is determined by the number of new and expanded facilities from 1989 to present, Tupelo would have ranked third when combined with Lee County. Tupelo listed 62 new and expanded facilities; 22 were reported in Lee County. Statesville, N.C., tops in the nation, listed 104 new and expanded facilities since 1989.
“Being recognized by Site Selection is an exceptional achievement when competing with more than 7,000 groups for the recognition,” said Community Development Foundation industry division leader Mark Ledbetter. Tupelo’s national ranking is also preceded by Bowling Green, Ky., Mooresville, N.C. and Findlay, Ohio.
“We are indeed honored to be recognized by Site Selection,” said Harry A. Martin, CDF president. “We’re by far the most industrialized area in Mississippi. There are now 655 industries within 50 miles of Tupelo. We’ve had a professional staff, along with an aggressive marketing program, and we’ve had excellent support from the public and volunteer sectors. CDF acknowledges the leadership of Tupelo and the towns of the area. Of special note is the support and leadership from the mayor of Tupelo, city council and the Lee County Board of Supervisors. CDF also has had the full support of the state legislature, administrative offices and the national legislative leaders from Mississippi in its effort.”
The March 2000 issue marks the second time the Tupelo/Lee County area has been recognized by Site Selection in this category. CDF has been recognized three times by Site Selection as being one of the “Top 10 Economic Development Groups in the Nation.”
“With the recent announcement of Tupelo’s ‘All American City’ designation by the National Civic League, Tupelo, Miss. is considered by many as a model for small town economic development,” according to an article in the March 2000 issue of Site Selection . “Tupelo received the top 10 honor for the third time, making it one of the few cities in the entire nation to receive such recognition.”
Former Tupelo mayor Glenn McCullough said Tupelo’s success is the 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.”
Booneville ranked No. 45; Columbus ranked No. 50 and Corinth ranked No. 86, according to the list. Other Mississippi towns include Meridian at No. 69 and Vicksburg at No. 79.
Charleigh Ford, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Association, attributes the “wonderful quality of life” in Columbus to its economic growth. According to the list, Columbus reported 28 new and expanded facilities since 1989.
“It all ties together,” Ford said. “CLEDA and the Columbus Visitors & Convention Bureau work harmoniously together. We’re charged with the industrial development arm and we’re doing real well. We’ve got good industrial projects, industries that are expanding and spending a lot of money here. These are old cornerstone industries that are pouring the money back into their business because things are well here.”
Columbus-Lowndes County’s largest employers include Sanderson Plumbing Products, with 875 employees; Weyerhaeuser Co., with 650 workers; and Omnova, with 600 employees. The Golden Triangle Industrial Park, located eight miles from Columbus, is located on 960 acres and is the largest of four industrial parks in the county.
Charles Gulotta, president of The Alliance, an economic development organization in Corinth, said efforts at economic diversification in the community have been very successful. Twenty-three new and expanded facilities have been reported since 1989.
“We’re had quite a few industrial projects, but at the same time, we’re working with three assisted-living centers that have located in the community, two new mental health facilities, two new hotels, new bed-and-breakfasts,” Gulotta said. “We’re seeing positive growth across the board.”
In many small towns, design/build firms cannot build projects fast enough to keep up with the demand. In Booneville, The McCarty Co. completed the Booneville Family Medical Clinic, an 8,000-square-foot facility, from design to opening for business, within five months. Construction of an additional 13,100 square feet to the Internal Medicine Associates Offices in Tupelo was done in four months.
“In each case, there was a compelling reason to complete the project on an accelerated time schedule,” said Leroy P. “Buddy” McCarty Jr., CEO of The McCarty Co. in Tupelo.
When small-town values were factored in, Tupelo had much more to offer than simply a good geographic location and a trained workforce. Small towns do not typically face certain quality-of-life issues that many metropolitan areas have such as high crime rates and congestion, according to Site Selection .
“The smaller places also have an appeal in that a company can be a larger fish in the pond,” Martin said. “So, it can get more attention from the local leadership and elected officials. We see small town locations as a definite advantage.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1018.