TUPELO — Following the mantra “start fast, do more and accelerate results” set forth by local business and government leaders, the Community Development Foundation of Tupelo did just that in a capital fund-raising campaign that ended last month.
At an early morning victory celebration Oct. 5 at the Mall of Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, CDF leaders were jubilant when they unveiled a $2.38 million check to nearly 300 supporters.
“We raised $2.38 million towards our five-year goal of $1.6 million,” said Bob Johnson, Future Focus development director for CDF and senior development director for the National Community Development Services (NCDS). “That’s 149% of our goal. Since that time, pledges have continued to come in — even this morning — and we’re at more than $2.4 million, and we’re hopeful that it will go a bit higher.”
When the $1.6 million Future Focus kicked off in late May, $902,500 had already been pledged. When the campaign officially ended in August, the goal had been exceeded, but CDF leaders extended it through September to “maintain the momentum,” Johnson said.
“It’s truly a testament to this community, and how dedicated the business community is to secure the future of Tupelo and Lee County,” he said.
David P. Rumbarger, president and CEO of CDF, said the generosity of the community would allow program initiatives originally set aside during planning because of resource concerns to now be implemented.
“Also vital to the success of the campaign, a group of special volunteers made time in their busy schedules to secure our community’s future,” Rumbarger said. “We thank each and every one for making a difference and leading the way.”
More than 120 businesses and individuals in the Lee County area pledged between $500 and $250,000 each toward the campaign, including the Rumbarger family.
Johnson said BancorpSouth, Hancock Fabrics, Journal Publishing Company, Lane/Action Industries, Lee County and the City of Tupelo, were among the early supporters of the campaign.
“Support of this scale is truly unusual,” said Johnson, who has worked on similar capital fund-raising campaigns in various parts of the country, including Hawaii.
The original $1.6-million plan called 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.
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.
“When we put our list of goals together last winter and spring, we had quite a list of desirable elements to add, but when we priced everything, we had to make priority choices,” Johnson said. “Now that we have additional funds, we can expand some of the priority choices and we can include some of the other elements that we thought had great value but we didn’t feel we had enough resources to provide them.”
Highlights of the Future Focus plan also 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.
“We’ve been working with the ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) on a federal grant and a broadband study initiative is already underway,” Johnson said.
CDF chairman Larry Kirk said leaders of the economic development organization will “make every penny count.”
“We’ve got some rebalancing to do on our own to make sure we don’t have all our eggs in one basket and that the growth that we’ve sort of become accustomed to in the last few years can be sustained and increased,” Kirk said.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was on hand for the victory celebration, congratulating CDF supporters “for a wise investment.”
“I am going to look with interest at your Future Focus,” he said. “I believe it has a lot of interest and a lot of ideas that can be adapted and expanded throughout the state.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.