“I got involved after I retired, and as a practicing physician, a lot of times you really don’t get a chance to see what’s going on,” he said. “You may look, but you may not see it … it dawned on me that each day we ride along the streets of Tupelo, looking at this and that, but we’re missing opportunities to see things that maybe we need to address, maybe we need to change, maybe look at how we can look at the growth of the community.”

Hundreds gathered at the combination open house and annual meeting at the CDF on Thursday as outgoing chairman Jerry Maxcy shared some of the highlights of the past year, including:

• $175.7 million in capital investment

• More than 600 jobs created

• Ten new and expanded industries

• $20.2 million in new payroll

As for Pace, he began his volunteer work with CDF after retirement, and said he was exposed to a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that the group does for Tupelo and Lee County from an economic development standpoint.

“My eyes were really opened when I heard more and more of what CDF did, and I realized just how important it is for the community, and that many people don’t know about CDF,” he said.

Having been on the outside looking in, Pace has now been on the inside to get a closer look and is ready to share the CDF’s mission.

“It’s been a wonderful transformation to me to see and appreciate how valuable it is for everybody in this area, and I want to get the message out,” he said. “We’re here working hard to make Tupelo and Lee County a better place, a more beautiful place, to build a stronger workforce. And we want to work on the retention of people who graduate from here and area colleges because we want to keep them here.”

Also on Thursday, Kory Hunter of Renasant Bank was recognized as Ambassador of the Year, after having attending 36 of 70 CDF events, volunteering for two CDF events and eight community/nonprofit events, serving on the three community committees and recruiting two new CDF members.