Tupelo — When you are talking to Mary C. Werner, vice president of Tupelo Manufacturing Company Inc. and second vice chairman of the Community Development Foundation (CDF), there is no mistaking from her accent that you aren’t talking to a native Southerner.
Werner’s Boston accent stands out even though she has been in Mississippi for 13 years.
“I didn’t even want to spend a month in Mississippi, and now you wouldn’t get me out of here,” Werner said. “Part of my role is being able to say to people who want to move down here from up north that this place is awesome. We really have a lot of things going for us in Mississippi, especially the state’s very friendly business climate.”
Werner jokes that even though she considers herself a full-fledged Mississippian, she sounds like a “Northeast Mississippian.” She sings the praises of the Tupelo area to all who will listen.
“If you have lived here all your life, you can say this is a great place to live,” Werner said. “But the fact is I can say, ‘This is a great place to move to and live.’ As a matter of fact, my brother just moved down from Boston. I think he was tired of me telling him how wonderful it is. I’m beginning to convert my family. slowly but surely.”
The pro-business climate makes it a place where industries like hers can thrive. Werner said this has been one of the company’s best years. Tupelo Manufacturing Company manufactures furniture for hotels, nursing homes and colleges.
“People are out there buying,” Werner said. “They are refurbishing dorms and hotels and motels. Nursing homes all along have been a staple.”
The company’s products are 100% American made with American products such as wood. Werner said they are really proud of not doing any imports, which helps keep people employed in Tupelo rather than overseas.
Next month Werner will move up from being second vice president of CDF to first vice president. She is on track in 2006 to become the first woman president of CDF in the organization’s history. The organization will be 59 years old when she becomes president.
“I’ve been involved with CDF for many years,” Werner said. “I think part of what makes Tupelo so unique is the CDF. I think CDF and the community have a synergistic partnership to improve all of Northeast Mississippi. CDF tries to bring in new business and increase jobs, and that’s good for the community.”
Werner, who taught high school English for a number of years, is also a founder of the group New Expectations for Women in Mississippi (NEWMS), which promotes mentorship, leadership, education, women’s finance and women’s health.
“We have a fabulous leadership program going on with a lunchtime networking program and seminars on issues such as basic money management and learning how to invest,” Werner said. “We don’t limit participation only to women. For our seminar we called Investing 101, we also had a number of men show up. We’re going to be having a spring Woman’s Symposium in the first part of June. There will be seminars, lectures and group discussions on various topics of interest to women such as networking, finance, health and leadership.”
Werner said the NEWMS group started under the auspices of Sandi Morris from the CREATE Foundation. A group of “really busy” women including a doctor, architect and business owners came together to form the group.
“We are all very opinionated, but we work well together with definite ideas,” Werner said. “We have been able to come to consensus on every issue we have faced.”
Werner said despite her groundbreaking role with CDF and the work with NEWMS, she doesn’t consider herself a “woman’s libber.”
“I just feel if you are capable, you should get the job,” Werner said. “But you must to have the confidence. I think a lot comes from the home, how you were brought up. The expectations were equal for both my brother and me. My parents expected us to excel. They always praised us so we ended up getting confident. People respond to you the way you respond to them. If you are confident, then people will have confidence in you.”
Another piece of advice she has is to be willing to ask for guidance and help when needed.
“One of the things I have found, not just in Mississippi but everywhere I have worked, is that sometimes women feel they have to do it all on their own,” Werner said. “I have found if you ask for help from a male or female, people are more than willing to give it. You don’t have to know it all. You have to know where to find the answers, but you don’t have to know them all.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.