Tupelo — If one message echoed through the Community Development Foundation’s (CDF’s) annual meeting in late April, it was this: leadership and community/economic development go hand in hand.
In reviewing the past year’s accomplishments and in outlining longer-term strategic initiatives, CDF speakers recognized themes such as regional cooperation, leadership preparedness and economic adaptability for the future. The group also introduced its first female board chairman, Mary Werner, vice president of Tupelo Manufacturing, while honoring long-time Tupelo civic and business leader Jack Reed Sr. with The Tupelo Spirit Lifetime Achievement Award. CDF also recognized 21 members of the Community Leadership Institute Class of 2006.
Werner, who moved to Tupelo in the early 1990s, delineated organizational goals, including implementation of the next phase of Future Focus 2010, a multi-faceted plan for the area’s industrial and economic growth.
Werner stated that since Future Focus was initiated in 2000, “results have been measured and categorized as successful.” She said that achievements include:
• more than 6,800 jobs created;
• $130 million in new commercial and industrial construction;
• $60 million annual increase in personal consumption expenditures;
• the approval of Foreign Trade Zone status, creating tax/tariff advantages for 150 businesses in Lee County;
• the approval, funding and construction of the IDEA Center, which is the new business incubator; and,
• the creation of the three-county PUL Alliance that has spearheaded marketing efforts for the Wellspring Project and includes Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties.
Considering global competition
Werner also discussed the importance of expanding and implementing Tupelo/Lee County’s economic growth strategy, given pressures from global competition. She said the approach must be two-fold: specifically, retaining and expanding existing industries while attracting new businesses to diversify the economy. She also stressed the importance of strengthening the depth of the area’s talent pool via the “continued development of our present and future workforce.”
Jim Kelley, president of BancorpSouth and 2005-2006 CDF chairman, outlined highlights of the year, which notably included that Tupelo and Lee County ranked second out of 400 micropolitan areas nationwide in terms of activity for new and expanding industries, according to Site Selection magazine. The ranking of second in the March issue of the magazine was achieved by the Tupelo/Lee County area recording 15 existing industry expansion projects and five new facility locations that exceeded $40 million in capital investment and the creation of over 440 new manufacturing jobs in 2005.
Enthusiastic about the future
While Werner’s new role marks a first for CDF, members and leaders such as Kelley are enthusiastic about her leadership.
“I’ve worked with Mary for a number of years on the CDF board and am convinced that her boundless enthusiasm, business acumen and commitment to Tupelo/Lee County will serve our area well during her term at the helm of CDF.”
Jack Reed Sr., whose Lifetime Achievement award was presented by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), served as CDF chairman in 1968 and 1969, and has been a vocal proponent of the importance of public education, among many other community and economic development initiatives.
In an interview afterwards, Reed said that everyone shares in the responsibility of working toward worthwhile efforts in local communities and that he feels honored to be a part of the area’s culture of community service. “We have a world of good leadership in Tupelo/Lee County and the region and it’s my pleasure to be a part of it.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at email@example.com.