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Business community excited about Future Focus campaign

Tupelo’s CDF fund-raising effort sees healthy start

TUPELO — When Mignon Williams and Grace Clark unfurled the banner signaling $902,500 had already been raised for the Community Development Foundation’s $1.6-million Future Focus campaign at its kickoff breakfast in late May, the crowd of nearly 300 business leaders cheered.

“It was a very exciting event because so many members of the business community participated and so many volunteers stepped up to be part of this program,” said Bob Johnson, Future Focus development director for CDF and senior development director for the National Community Development Services (NCDS).

“Afterward, the buzz in the room ranged from, ‘we didn’t even know you were out looking for money and you’ve already raised $900,000, the rest should be easy,’ to ‘do you think we could raise a little more and really position CDF with some additional funding to accomplish even more?’ I would say the outcome was very positive,” Johnson said.

Of the $1.6 million, the plan calls for $550,000 to be spent on proactive marketing and promotion, $350,000 on workforce development education and training, $350,000 on technology assessment and development, $150,000 on area development retention and expansion, $100,000 on leadership and organizational development and $100,000 on business climate and quality of life issues.

So far, businesses have pledged as much as $125,000 each and individuals as much as $15,000. The fund-raising campaign runs through August.

“With a modest additional annual investment in Future Focus added to CDF’s regular program, we can multiply our results for the community as follows: Future Focus results plus CDF regular program results equal a brighter economic future for Tupelo and Lee County, better and more employment opportunities, improved quality of life throughout the region and maximized ‘ROI’ for investors and members,” said David P. Rumbarger, CDF president and CEO, explaining the “CDF Math” concept.

Approximately 66% of the $1.6 million will be spent on the retention and expansion of existing business and industry and the expansion of local capacity for economic development. Roughly one-third will be earmarked for advertising and marketing, Johnson said.

Highlights of the Future Focus plan include putting a high-tech infrastructure strategy in place by mid-2002, training at least 1,750 workers in the next five years, implementing a small business development program, marketing the area to targeted industries, increasing industrial park space, re-establishing Leadership Lee County, expanding Council of Governments assistance and assisting existing industries.

“Telecommunications industry representatives that service our area and folks from the state’s development entities and universities and community colleges in the region will be invited to sit in on discussions to lay the groundwork for developing a comprehensive plan,” Johnson said. “There have been a number of private discussions, but it will become more of a formal group over the next couple of months to prepare for the full study and comprehensive report. That report will be circulated in draft form to the impacted counties and communities in Northeast Mississippi that might choose to participate. We hope the report will ultimately lead to a comprehensive plan that will have universal endorsement. Then, working from the plan, everyone will be on the same page.”

Workforce development education and training goals include serving as the community’s lead advocate to assure responsive workforce preparedness and training and targeted labor force attraction, to create and host a Workforce Development Advocacy Committee and serve as an industry policy advisor to Tupelo’s Advanced Education Center.

Barbara Smith, a longtime CDF veteran, was recently named vice president of chamber services and small business development to create a comprehensive small business program, Johnson said.

“Barbara will start with a survey of area small businesses to determine their current and emerging needs and to gather a wish list of support to keep small businesses strong,” he said. “She’ll create a number of networking opportunities for small businesses, starting with the First Friday program, which will kick off in September. A formal, one-stop comprehensive business information center will be implemented. CDF has long provided business information, but much of it is on an ad hoc basis and needs to be formalized.”

Bill Moran, FMC Corp. plant manager and a CDF director, called Future Focus “a step straight to the next level.”

Rumbarger said the next level “includes a host of the 39,000 economic development organizations in America that are conducting similar multi-year campaigns to strengthen their job bases.”

“If CDF successfully completes Future Focus, it not only will compete at that level but also will measure such results as a $107-million increase in personal income, an $11.6-million rise in bank deposits and a $12.9-million jump in property tax revenues in five years,” he said.

Community leaders have hailed Future Focus as a “well-integrated plan.”

“The program…carries a refreshing recognition that there are daunting challenges ahead and that the organizational engine of the community’s previous economic success needs an overhaul and rejuvenation,” wrote Lloyd Gray, editor of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in a May 27 editorial. “Part of that rejuvenation involves making everyone already here — existing industry, small businesses and a generally wider spectrum of the community — feel involved, energized and appreciated and not simply expected to play the role of a passive supporting cast.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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