Home » NEWS » Economic Development » BILL CRAWFORD: If only Tupelo’s unifying culture reached statewide

BILL CRAWFORD: If only Tupelo’s unifying culture reached statewide


Do you know the “Tupelo Story,” the uplifting chronicle of Tupelo’s self-transformation from “a hardscrabble hamlet” (Aspen Institute) to a prosperous small city and “national model for homegrown development” (William Winter)?

Vaughn Grisham, Jr., built a career around telling the Tupelo Story and was the founding director of the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at Ole Miss. His book, “Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community” tells the story as does his monograph with Rob Gurwitt, “Hand in Hand: Community and Economic Development in Tupelo,” a case study published by the Aspen Institute (https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/hand-hand-community-economic-development-tupelo-1999/).
In the Forward to Grisham’s book, former Governor William Winter calls Tupelo “a place where people have learned not to dismiss their own personal self-interest, but to equate it with the interest of their community.”
While Daily Journal publisher George McLean was the enlightened self-interest guru and unrelenting catalyst behind Tupelo’s transformation, the Tupelo Story is really a multi-generational story of strong and progressive business leadership, inclusive community engagement, well-researched and strategic decisions, and institutionalized civic processes.
I was reminded of the story by a Daily Journal editorial last week entitled, “Continued community success depends on training next generation.” It told of the Tupelo Mayor’s Youth Council leadership program teaching youth the Tupelo Story and inspiring them to “continue the history of engaged and dedicated leadership our community has benefitted from for the last 75 years.”     
You see, what Tupelo has developed is a unifying “community culture” (Grisham) that intentionally renews itself, edifies its business and community leaders, and, thereby, sustains the city’s focus on helping both its people and its businesses do better. 
In looking to answer why Mississippi persistently ranks at the bottom on so many indicators, you need look no further than to our lack of a vibrant, unifying state culture. Unlike Tupelo, we have been unable to bridge divisions rooted in race, provincialism, self-interest, and ideology. Thus, instead of discourse leading to success and distinction, we get unending squabbles that foster distress, disappointment, dysfunction, distrust, and discombobulation.
Nothing is more symptomatic of this condition than the rank partisanship in our state Legislature. Indeed, its leaders tout partisanship and offer no proposals to bridge divisions and develop a unifying culture. 
Tupelo ensconced its forward-looking business leadership in its Community Development Foundation (CDF). Not satisfied with the chamber of commerce model, McLean designed the CDF to serve the full community along with business interests. 
The only organization to come close to the CDF at the state level has been the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC). While primarily business focused, the MEC, like the CDF, has championed education, health care, and other quality of life initiatives. But despite ambitious efforts like Blueprint Mississippi, the MEC has been unable to forge sufficient consensus to bridge the state’s many divisions. Lately, MEC influence has dwindled as that of anti-progressive out-of-state special interest groups has surged. 
It is human nature to put self-interest first. Once George McLean convinced Tupelo business leaders that balancing self-interest with community interests would be better for all, the city and region prospered. Tupelo has carefully nurtured this approach through future generations of business and community leadership. 
How far off the bottom might Mississippi be if this approach had reached statewide? 
» BILL CRAWFORD (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About For the MBJ

Leave a Reply