Community Development Foundation Tupelo

Community Development Foundation Tupelo

The Community Development Foundation is the local Economic & Community Development organization for Tupelo/Lee County, Mississippi, and advertises itself as the local Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, it has had a controversial history in the Northeast Mississippi area for the past 60 years.


The 1940s

The Community Development Foundation was organized in 1948 in the Blue Room of Hotel Tupelo by community leaders who desired to control and coordinate the economic and community development activities of the region. It has been vocally criticized as a centralized planning committee similar to those in China and the former Soviet Union.

CDF is a membership organization governed by a 60-member Board of Directors, elected by the members, with a 15 member Executive Committee, composed of officers, division leaders and other professionals. Currently CDF has in excess of 1400 members. CDF pursues its goal of industrializing the Tupelo-Lee County region, appealing to business, industry and professional leaders who often bring low-paying jobs to the region. CDF's membership has sought to control what it calls an "economic region" by developing a ten year strategy plan, an annual program of work that they argue will enhance agriculture, business, education, and industry. They have advocated and employed controversial private/public partnerships, and they support efforts such as skills and technology "enhancement," improved transportation and health care.

In addition, CDF has been instrumental in establishing and/or supporting agencies that meet the needs of the community: Lift, Inc., a multi-county community action agency; United Way of Greater Lee County; The Lee County Council of Governments; Big Ten Development Association; Entrepreneurs' Forum of Northeast Mississippi; Tri-State Natchez Trace Parkway Association and Tupelo Furniture Marketing Association.

CDF also sponsors a number of annual events, such as Industry-Education Day, the Northeast Mississippi Annual Economic Forecast Conference, and an annual membership meeting that summarizes the past years and accomplishments.

One of the largest contributions CDF has made is collaboration with government in the establishment of nine industrial parks located in the area. CDF has been characterized by many as an organization that is at the center of innovation, as well as the most significant creative force in rural American economic and community development.

The 1950s

In the early 1950s, as the Rural Community Development Council program was being adopted on a national scale, CDF worked to provide displaced farm workers with jobs in local industries. Industrial employment totaled 1,900 workers and Rockwell opened in Tupelo as a result of $120,000 in incentives. CDF, through its Industrial Committee, began to focus intently on attracting commercial and industrial employers to Tupelo and Lee County. CDF also had a new leader at the helm in Cecil White, who replaced Sam Marshall as Executive Officer.

In 1950, Lee County ranked tenth in manufacturing counties in the state. That same year CDF led a delegation of community leaders to Chicago, IL to meet with Morris Futorian, a manufacturer of upholstered furniture, and to learn more about his “radical ideas” involving the mass assembly of furniture. Members of the delegation, led by W.E. McClure and J.M. “Ikey” Savery, rallied the local community to raise $150,000 to bring Futorian to North Mississippi, where he founded Stratford Company. This was the start of the furniture industry in Mississippi and Futorian became known as the “Father of the Furniture Industry.”

On May 1, 1956, Harry A. Martin was named Executive Officer of CDF with one full-time employee, one part-time employee, 250 members, and a budget of $40,000. By 1959, CDF’s budget doubled from $44,000 to $88,000.

In 1959, Lee County ranked fourth in manufacturing counties in the state. Industries including Hoerner Box, Super Sagless, and Pennsylvania Tire located to the area. The Northeast Mississippi Community Relations Association was also created in 1959. CRA was established to promote better employer-employee relations.

The 1960s

With the 1960s came a continued effort to further Tupelo/Lee County’s status as a growing manufacturing power in Mississippi. In 1961, Lee County Supervisors approved the paving of 84 miles (135 km) of county roads which allowed rural workers to get to work year round and gave Lee County one of the most improved rural road systems in the state.

A major step towards the regionalization of Tupelo/Lee County occurred in 1962 with the creation of Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South (TULIPS), CDF’s first industrial park. Aircap and Griffin Hinge (Eljer) were the first to locate in TULIPS. For the first time, industry payrolls in Lee County exceeded that of agriculture. Interestingly, Griffin Hinge’s payroll was equal to that of 5,000 bales of cotton.

During the 1960s CDF sponsored the creation of several community organizations by providing leadership, financial support, and staff assistance. Such organizations included United Way of Greater Lee County, Lift, Inc., and Lee United Neighbors. Also, industries including Dryden Rubber, Walled Lake Door, Krueger Metal Products, Rheem Manufacturing, and Barber’s Pure Milk located to Tupelo/Lee County during this time.

Education has always played a vital role in the growth of CDF. With the 1960s came the completion of Tupelo High School and Auditorium. In 1966, the State Superintendent of Education sited Tupelo as the “leading community in education in the state.” As such, Tupelo was named an All-America City by the National Civic League in 1967.[1]

With 1969 came the creation of a pivotal entity in the Council of Governments. Through CDF, elected officials of Lee County and its municipalities joined together to create a regional planning commission called the Council of Governments (COG). The purpose of this organization was to broaden the communication and cooperation between governmental entities and to provide technical planning and public policy services to Lee County and its municipalities. COG services all nine Lee County municipalities including Baldwyn, Guntown, Nettleton, Plantersville, Saltillo, Shannon, Sherman, Tupelo, and Verona. The initial COG officers were Mayor James Robbins, Chairman; Supervisor Calvin Turner, Vice-Chairman; Harry A. Martin, Secretary/Treasurer; and Frank Riley, Council Attorney. The current COG officers are Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy, Chairman; Mayor Jimmy Anderson, Vice-Chairman; and David Rumbarger, Secretary/Treasurer.

The 1970s

1970 marked the centennial anniversary of Tupelo. While past accomplishments were applauded, community leaders were focused on even greater plans for the Tupelo/Lee County region.

In 1971, Lee County and CDF developed 500 acres north to Tupelo that became Turner Industrial Park. The park was formed to balance area growth and further regionalize the community. FMC Corporation became the first industry to locate in Turner Industrial Park, expanding the work center of Tupelo to the northern part of Lee County.

The CREATE Foundation was chartered by George and Anna Kiersey McLean in 1972 as a regional community planning organization whose mission was to improve the quality of life for the people of Northeast Mississippi by building permanent community endowment assets, strengthening regional community development capacity, providing leadership on key community issues, managing charitable funds contributed by individuals, families, organizations, and corporations, and addressing community opportunities through targeted grant-making.

In 1976, CDF organized the very first Industry-Education Day. This event brought economic teachers into a day-long session at the Ramada Inn with Dr. Eugene Stanaland, Department of Economics, Auburn University. Volunteers from business and industry visited classrooms throughout Tupelo/Lee County to discuss the free market system with students. The purpose of I-E Day has remained the same, to bring together educators and industrialists in an effort to promote the American Free Enterprise System, to demonstrate the need for cooperation and coordination between educators and the job provider system, and to improve the economic development of our region and enhance job opportunities.

1977 brought the commencement of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which would later prove to be a major resource to the water supply needs of Tupelo/Lee County.

During the 1970s a myriad of industries came to call Tupelo/Lee County home including, Action Industries, Hickory Springs, E.R. Carpenter, Sheller-Globe, Tecumseh, Wondura, and Metalloy Foundry.

The 1980s

The 1980s were a decade of national exposure for the Community Development Foundation. A Wall Street Journal article sited Tupelo among the “smaller cities that rank as the best in attracting new business.” Hundreds of thousands of quality furniture pieces were being produced making Tupelo/Lee County the upholstered furniture capitol of the world.

In 1982, CDF, in partnership with Itawamba Community College (ICC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), opened the Tupelo National Model for Technical Development at the Vocational High School. This program, an outgrowth of a cooperative community effort to improve and coordinate career training and development in the region, offered courses in lasers, robotics, tool and die making, numerical control, office occupations, and data processing. The National Model was one of several programs that garnered national attention for CDF and led to a partnership between CDF, ICC, TVA, and IBM in 1986 to establish an innovative program to teach adults how to read. The Principals in the Alphabet Literacy System (PALS) laboratory was housed on ICC’s Tupelo campus.

Also in 1986, CDF was named by Site Selection Magazine as one of the nation’s Top Ten Leading Industrial Development Agencies. More than 5,000 organizations participated in the survey. In the same year, Lee County became number one in the state for manufacturing growth and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was completed.

The Tupelo Furniture Market was born in 1987 in the CDF boardroom. The first show was held at the Ramada Inn and in the old Woolco Building in the Downtown Mall. Governor Bill Allain officially declared that Mississippi was “the new furniture capital of America,” following the first successfully Furniture Market in Tupelo.

1987 also brought the creation of the AHEAD program. CDF spearheaded the “Highway Day State Rally” in Jackson, MS, with over 1,100 attending to support the passing of the program. That year the State Legislature would pass the 1987 4-Lane Highway Program, enabling motorists to reach Tupelo/Lee County by four-lane highway from every direction.

In 1988, a water crisis for Tupelo/Lee County was at the forefront of the minds of the county’s citizenry. CDF prepared a program, “ Tupelo/Lee County Water Crisis: More Than a Local Problem,” in accordance with legislative requests for funding to provide water from the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Tupelo would accept its first water from the Tennessee-Tombigbee in 1991.

Tupelo was again named an “All America City” in 1989.[2] A thriving decade for the region, the 1980s brought such industries to Tupelo/Lee County as Columbian Rope, Westwood Industries, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Hunter Douglas, Wey Valve, and Bauhaus.

The 1990s

During the 1990s, a great deal of CDF’s efforts were focused on quality of life programs. With the help of the PHH Fantus Study, twenty strategies were selected to focus on during this decade.

During the two previous decades, Weinstein Studies were completed, identifying the need for a regional mall in the Tupelo/Lee County area. In 1990, the Mall at Barnes Crossing opened as the first regional mall in Northeast Mississippi. When it opened in 1990, sales were $150.00 per square foot, with 1,000 mall employees, and 3.8 million visitors that year. In 2007, sales were $398.5 per square foot, with 2,600 mall employees, and 12.5 million visitors that year.

In 1992, CDF optioned 263 acres in North Lee County for the North Lee Industrial Complex. The industrial park that is home to such industries as Hancock Fabrics, AL-KO Kober, and Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi was re-named the Harry A. Martin North Lee Industrial Complex in 2000.

On October 9, 1993, the Tupelo Coliseum, now the BancorpSouth Arena, opened with comedian Bill Cosby as the opening act. The venue has hosted a plethora of entertainment events including artists such as James Taylor, the Eagles, Van Halen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Nickelback, and Aerosmith. In 1994, the facility was nominated for Best New Major Concert Venue in Pollstar Magazine. The same year Performance Magazine nominated the Coliseum as Best New Facility (7,000 to 12,999 seats) and Best New Facility overall.[3]

Sponsored by the Lee County Board of Supervisors, the Lee County Agri-Center opened in Verona in 1994. The 151,000-square-foot (14,000 m2) center included an enclosed arena with concert seating for 6,200, an outside warm-up area, stall barn, cattle barn, and small animal barn. The venue hosts equine and livestock shows throughout the year and also offers an RV park and the Magnolia Room, a multi-purpose arena.

Tupelo was named an “All America City” for the third time in 1999.[4] The 1990s also brought several new corporate citizens to the Tupelo/Lee County area including Sara Lee, Allsteel, Himolene, Stanley Works, Norbord, Berkline Corporation, AL-KO Kober, and Bryce Corporation.

The 2000s

The turn of the century not only brought new industry to the Tupelo/Lee County area, but new a new face to the helm of CDF. On August 21, 2000, David Rumbarger replaced Harry A. Martin as President and Chief Executive Officer of CDF.

In 2000, the Future Focus capitol campaign was initiated to diversify and strengthen Tupelo/Lee County for the future. The campaign proved successful, enabling the creation of 6,855 new jobs over a five year period and bringing $130 million of new commercial and industrial construction to the area. Following the success of the first campaign, Future Focus 2010 was adopted in 2005 to further diversify the county’s economy. Over $ 2.6 million was pledged by area businesses during the first campaign, with $2.8 million pledged during the latter.

Education, always at the forefront of CDF’s program of work, was making new strides in Tupelo/Lee County with the opening of the Advanced Education Center in Tupelo in 2000. This facility is shared by the University of Mississippi, Itawamba Community College, and the Mississippi University for Women. The center offers a myriad of diverse programs, from continuing education for manufacturing employees to nursing, health, education, and management information courses.

A pivotal moment in Tupelo/Lee County’s history occurred in 2001 when the Pontotoc, Union, Lee Alliance was created, with approval from the Mississippi Development Authority. In 2003, the PUL Alliance garnered $250,000 from the State of Mississippi for an engineering study to a 1,000 acre regional “supersite” for industrial development, the first of its kind in the state. The site, in Blue Springs, MS, was certified by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2005 and later that year The Wellspring Project was introduced to the automotive industry at the Automotive World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Through the efforts of CDF, Governor Haley Barbour, Mississippi Development Authority, Three Rivers Planning & Development District, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, Toyota Motor Company announced on February 27, 2007 the eighth North American automotive assembly plant would be located at the Wellspring Project site, representing a $1.3 billion investment and 2,000 initial jobs.[5] Toyota Auto Body, a tier-one supplier to Toyota, announced on September 25, 2007, that it would build its first North American headquarters in the Harry A. Martin North Lee Industrial Complex near Baldwyn, MS, under the auspices of Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi.[6]

In 2002, a development strategy was established for a Lee County business incubator. This strategy would lead to the building of the Renasant Center for IDEAs, Tupelo/Lee County’s Regional Business Incubator that opened in 2006. The center for entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes sits on 2.5 acres on the corner of East Main Street and Elizabeth Street in the downtown Fairpark District. Also this year, CDF and CREATE Foundation initiated the Community Leadership Institute, a two-year program designed to enhance community leadership development and personal and professional growth. The two-year program consists of one year of training and one year of community re-investment. The program was named the Jim Ingram Community Leadership Institute in 2007 in honor of the former CDF chairman and community leader.

The Lee County Board of Supervisors adopted the Lee County Plus Plan in 2003, a four-pillar economic development plan to phase out Freeport inventory taxes and offer additional incentives to new and expanding industries. The Plan’s four major components included real and personal property tax exemptions, international trade zone, Freeport warehousing inventory tax exemption, and capital advancement incentive. 2004 was a busy year for CDF. The Tupelo Story Conference was held, with 142 participants representing twelve different states. Lee County joined the Vicksburg/Jackson Foreign Trade Zone creating the Greater Mississippi Foreign Trade Zone, designating over 5,000 acres and 100 industries. FTZ designation was of great importance to local industries as it provides special customs procedures to U.S. plants engaged in international trade-related activities.

During this decade such industries as Thysenkrupp Fabco (Martinrea Fabco), Foamade Industries, Yellowstone Furniture Manufacturing, Block Corporation, Fairfield Processing, Davis International, Okin, Circadence, General Atomics, Sleep Innovations, and National Electronics Warranty Customer Service Companies, located to the Tupelo/Lee County area. In 2007, CDF was named one of the Top Economic Development Groups in the United States by Site Selection Magazine.

A theme throughout CDF’s 60 years of service is a staunch commitment to education for all people in Tupelo/Lee County. In August 2008, the Lee County Board of Supervisors and CREATE Foundation made a college education available for every high school graduate, over 650 students, in Lee County, with the establishment of the Lee County/Marchbanks Helping Hand Tuition Guarantee Program. Beginning with the Class of 2009, residents of Lee County graduating from Baldwyn, Mooreville, Nettleton, Shannon, Saltillo, Tupelo, and other Lee County high school graduates, will receive two full years of tuition free assistance to Itawamba Community College.


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