TUPELO – At the end of his first full week on the job as the Community Development Foundation’s new leader, David P. Rumbarger was firmly entrenched in economic activity.
“I saw him yesterday and he was already stretched very thin, but he’s coming into a great situation, with very positive growth in Lee County that he’ll help even more,” said Chris Rogers, chairman of the Tupelo Redevelopment Authority.
Aubrey Patterson, CEO of BancorpSouth in Tupelo, who called Rumbarger a “firebrand,” said he’s running on all cylinders.
“(Last week), we spent all day with the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, the head of the Mississippi Development Authority, and got pledges of support from them, and we gave them ours,” said Patterson.
“We have an enormously positive opportunity to move forward. Harry Martin is an icon who cannot be duplicated, a true giant in this field, but he’s laid the foundation for even greater things and David’s the one to do it. He knows how to deal with people from all levels and all walks of life,” Patterson said.
After months of searching nationally for a replacement, the Community Development Foundation’s new chief officially clocked in Aug. 28, but was on the job Aug. 21, the day the board voted him on. By the end of his first official week, Rumbarger was able to help announce the GPU Project, a $300-million, 700-megawatt private power plant, which will create 300 temporary construction jobs for 36 months and 21 permanent, highly compensated technician positions when it opens in the spring of 2003.
“The activity level here is astounding,” Rumbarger said. “We’ve visited with three major industrial prospects already, and we’re working on several expansions. There’s never a dull moment. One of the reasons Harry Martin is grinning so wide is that he told me a great weight slid from his shoulders to mine.”
Rumbarger, an economic developer with extensive experience in the public and private sectors, replaced Harry A. Martin as president of CDF, a non-profit membership organization that has won numerous national accolades for its role in the economic enhancement of Tupelo and Lee County. Even though CDF’s economic arm reaches the county line, its effects expand beyond the county, with roots in Alabama and Tennessee.
“David Rumbarger was our top choice for this position because he has impressive economic development experience in both the public and private sector,” said Dr. Jeff Barber, board chairman and search committee chairman. “He has the experience needed to bring new ideas and to continue the work already in place through our nationally-recognized program.”
Patterson wouldn’t say how many candidates were considered in the nationwide search, assisted by Maryland consultant Joan Jorgensen, but said, “we were obviously intent on finding someone as tuned in as, and to follow the exemplary performance for almost half a century of, Harry Martin.”
John Smith, CEO of People’s Bank in Tupelo and a search committee member, said “a raft” of top-notch candidates was in the running, but Rumbarger was “clearly a notch above.”
“David’s top priorities are cultivating prospects for the area and implementing a 10-year plan he inherited that was just developed,” Smith said. “He’ll be looking at ways to accomplish the points in that plan. And I’m sure Harry Martin will help acclimate him to the area.”
Larry Kirk, president of Hancock Fabrics and CDF first vice chairman, said the long-range plan will be tweaked along the way.
“David’s already been involved with the plan and agrees with priorities already set and will provide the direction to carry out the plan,” Kirk said. “He’s a consensus-building kind of guy and will involve a lot of people in this process and that can’t be anything but good. He’s getting a lot of support from Mr. Martin and that’s a nice thing to watch.”
Martin, now president emeritus, is working with Rumbarger during a lengthy transition period.
“David’s in and I’m quite happy with my new title,” Martin said. “Usually, sudden changes mean the person leaving is immediately dismissed. I’m not being critical of those who don’t have a transition period, but I can see the need for us to have it here. We’ll have a six-month period where I’ll help him bridge this transition with prospects and tend other details.”
Under Martin’s 44 years of leadership, more than 100 plants have located or expanded in Lee County, and five industrial parks have been developed. Site Selection Handbook and the Industrial Development Research Council of Atlanta named CDF as one of the top 10 development agencies in the nation in 1987, 1993 and 1997. Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South was listed as on of the top 10 industrial parks in the nation for new space – the only one in the Mid-South – in 1991.
“The important thing is where do we go from here,” Patterson said. “David’s got a vision on how to build on the enormously successful job creation machine that Tupelo has become, to develop technical training for the industries of the future, and to broaden our mission a little bit to incorporate even more areas of community development. He understands the importance of that. I could not be more pleased.”
Tupelo Mayor Larry K. Otis said continuing Martin’s legacy of community ownership would be very important.
“David is interested in total community development – a hallmark of CDF,” Otis said. “He believes community development precedes economic development. As we build the community, we become a more attractive community for industrial recruitment.
“We already have one of the top quality school systems in the nation as a result of study, commitment and investment by CDF. We have a community symphony, ballet, and many features – quality features – a community our size should not have. This is really important for our area to look at the total community as we embark on a new economic developer for the CDF. We have already benefited from having the best industrial developer in the southeast U.S.”
Rumbarger, 40, was previously employed as president and COO of Conway Data. Prior to that position, he served as vice president of economic development and vice president of sales and service for Carolina Power and Light, more recently overseeing 188 employees and six sections that reported more than $1.3 billion in direct sales annually.
An Auburn University alum, Rumbarger’s economic development experience included stints with the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg (“David created the ADP and successfully handled the city’s convention center planning and execution, too,” said Patterson) and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Among many professional awards, Rumbarger was selected as one of Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 in 1995.
“David Rumbarger has a very impressive track record and is a dynamic individual,” said Jeff D. Snyder, general manager of The Mall at Barnes Crossing and CDF board member. “His energy, experience and leadership ability is ideal for CDF. He has hit the ground running and the transition has been smooth.”
Debbie Woodrick Hall, executive director of the United Way of Northeast Mississippi, said she hasn’t met Rumbarger yet, but the buzz is that he’s already a team player.
Bill Moran, plant manager of FMC-Tupelo, said Rumbarger’s references were impressive.
“Obviously he has very big shoes to fill,” Moran said. “He is excepti
onally capable. I’m confident CDF and community
leaders will be very supportive of ensuring his success.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.