TUPELO – When Community Development Foundation (CDF) president David Rumbarger learned that Site Selection magazine had ranked the Northeast Mississippi city of 35,000 No. 19 in the top 100 small cities for new and expanded corporate facilities in its March issue, he was pleasantly surprised.
“Making the nation`s top 20 is very good news,” said Rumbarger, “especially since it`s an award that you can`t really compete for because it`s a blind ranking.”
Rumbarger had worked for Site Selection`s parent company, Conway Data Inc., in Atlanta before taking over the reins of the Lee County-Tupelo economic development organization in 2001 from longtime chief Harry A. Martin.
“Conway Data`s CEO and I didn`t agree on going forward the same way in business,” said Rumbarger. “Tupelo called and … well, it`s hard to turn down Aubrey Patterson.”
Site Selection`s rankings were based on criteria including job creation, investment capital, employer interviews and peer interviews from among the nation`s 15,800 small cities.
“We had a kind of a clandestine way of picking these folks,” said Rumbarger, who hired publication director Ron Starner before leaving Conway Data. “It wasn`t just based on the number of dollars of projects, but based on complete information about where people felt like you ranked.”
Jack Schultz, author of “In Boomtown USA: The Seven-and-a-Half Keys to Big Success in Small Towns,” uses the city as an example of a regional approach to economic development in his book and on the lecture circuit.
“My best salespeople are my existing industries,” said Rumbarger. “There`s no question they’re the ones that make things happen. This honor is a tremendous compliment to the foundation because it`s not just one person, but rather a group of private and public leaders with an ability to come together and work on projects.
“Lee County is an interesting place as a large manufacturing area because so many companies are willing to pull together. In the last 22 years of my career, I’ve noticed that many times I’d introduce a competitor to one of my resident companies, and there was worry about the new company hiring away employees. Folks here don`t traditionally do that. They’re very welcoming and open to new employers. That`s a tribute to existing industry. It`s a big reason we’re so successful.”
From 2001 to 2003, 16 companies located in Lee County, investing $22 million in 651,500 square feet and creating 673 jobs. During the same time period, 35 companies expanded, investing $67.7 million in 829,000 square feet and creating 2,358 jobs.
“These top 20 finishes are nice, but the folks making a living in Lee County – more and better jobs – is what it`s all about,” said Rumbarger.
Highlights from CDF`s 2001-2003 new and expanded industry report:
• Omega Motion completed a $5-million expansion in April 2001. By May 2002, the company had completed another expansion, valued at $2 million. Located in Turner Industrial Park, the company manufactures furniture hardware and springs for furniture and bedding.
• H.M. Richards completed a $3-million, 200,000-square-foot expansion in November 2003. Located in Harry A. Martin North Lee Industrial Park, the company manufactures stationary furniture.
• Gibson Corrugated completed a $2.2-million, 167,000-square foot expansion in June 2001. Located in Tupelo, the company makes corrugated containers.
• In October 2002, Spartech Industries, producer of molded plastics, completed construction of a $4-million, 54,000-square-foot facility in Tupelo.
• Hawkeye Industries completed a $1-million, 11,000-square-foot expansion in September 2001. Located in Tupelo, the company manufactures sheet metal fabrication and fabricated metal products.
• Aircap/MTD, maker of lawn mowers, edgers and tillers, completed an $800,000-expansion in September 2001.
• ThyssenKrupp Fabco, makers of automotive component parts, began construction last September on a $20-million, 50,000-square-foot expansion.
• Last January, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company completed a $7-million expansion. Located in Tupelo, the company produces steel-belted radial tires.
• Advanced Innovations completed a $1.8-million, 114,000-square-foot building last June. New to Lee County, the company makes molded foam products and employs 70.
“Although we’ve had great success in the furniture sector, as you look through these industries, you`ll notice a balanced approach, with Cooper Tire, Advanced Innovation, Fabco and others,” said Rumbarger. “We’re becoming a more balanced industry, which is very positive for us.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.