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Growing trend? Building jobs

Tupelo — Economic development has always been a competitive game as communities across the nation seek to attract large, high-profile companies that may boost local employment. But increasingly, proactive communities are also focusing their efforts on building jobs from within via local innovation, entrepreneurship and partnership.

In Tupelo/Lee County, the strategy is evident in the newly-named Renasant Center for IDEAS, a business incubator located in the city’s downtown Fairpark District. During a press conference at the center last week attended by local civic and community leaders, Renasant Bank and the Community Development Foundation announced that they have signed an agreement that provides naming rights for the facility to the $2.5-billion-asset banking company. Renasant Corp., headquartered in Tupelo, operates 61 banking and insurance offices in 38 cities within Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.

Slated for final completion in 30 days, the Renasant Center for IDEAS, which stands for Innovation, Development, Entrepreneurship in Action, will enjoy the name recognition of a company with long-standing roots in the region. Under the agreement, Renasant will pay more than $200,000 over five years to rename the facility. At the completion of the term, Renasant will have an option to renew the agreement for two more five-year terms.

“We see this as a tremendous opportunity for us to give something back to the community,” said Renasant chairman and CEO E. Robinson McGraw. “This is a great way to show our support for small businesses, and we look forward to the Renasant Center for IDEAS becoming a key part of the future business and entrepreneurial success stories in Northeast Mississippi.”

According to project officials, the Renasant Center for IDEAS will serve as a hub for business clients located in the incubator and other businesses in the region to receive business counseling, training and information. A myriad of services ranging from business basics to management and financial training to legal assistance, accounting and research will be provided. Another important benefit is the ability for business clients to network and gain experience from each other, said Wayne Averett, CDF vice president of entrepreneurship and small business development.

Tupelo Mayor Ed Neelly said that the whole concept fosters partnership and entrepreneurship and benefits the region by its ability to assist entrepreneurs in transforming good ideas into viable business enterprises with diverse resources and expertise. Averett added that Renasant’s support reinforces “a great model for partnership between public and private entities.”

“This partnership is a wonderful multiplier of our ability to serve entrepreneurs and small businesses,” Averett noted. “It adds even more financial stability so that we can keep our focus on helping entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

According to area officials associated with the project, the concept underscores the importance of community cooperation. For example, the site was donated by the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency and the City of Tupelo to Lee County. Lee County owns the site and the building. CDF leases the site and the building from Lee County and operates and maintains the Renasant Center for IDEAS and the bundle of services offered to entrepreneurs and small businesses. CDF chairwoman Mary Werner added that the partnership with Renasant not only provides strong name recognition, but a boost in financial support.

Business incubators can have a significant impact on local communities, according to statistics provided by Averett that were reported by the National Business Incubation Association. According to the reported figures, for every two jobs created by companies that graduate from business incubators, one additional job is created in the community. Moreover, 84% of companies that graduate from business incubators stay in their home communities.

The building, which is slightly more than 28,000 square feet, was expected to be ready in 10-30 days as of press time, with various punch-list items for review, Averett added.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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