People will long remember and talk about the year of 2020, which thank goodness is almost over. But it’s not necessarily the worst time America has ever had. I was born in 1940 and for the first half of the 1940s the world was at war with itself in all of Europe and all of Asia at the same time and Americans were fighting on both sides of the world. World War II ended when I was five years old. Tupelo is still a small town, but back in the late 1940s it wasn’t much more than a village. So what happened, because in some categories we lead the nation today. I won’t try to list all of the firsts that have happened in Tupelo, Mississippi, or all of the categories where we are famous nationwide, because this column is about what happened. The story of how and why Tupelo became the city it is today is based, I think, squarely on just one thing. The Community Development Foundation, formed in 1948 by the businessmen of Tupelo and under the leadership of George McLean, who owned the Daily Journal newspaper. Tupelo didn’t get television until the early 1950s so I didn’t grow up with anything other than the Mickey Mouse Club and Howdy Doody, which is why I was so surprised to find this meaningful quote from Dr. Seuss recently, which I think says a lot about Tupelo and the CDF. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who will decide where to go.” Today Tupelo thinks of the CDF as mostly an industrial development organization and of course they have done a lot of that culminating with the huge Toyota plant that came to our area a few years ago. But in the early days of CDF, they had committees for everything. There was even a committee that worked with the medical community to help build it up to the point that we have the largest hospital in rural America right here in Tupelo, Mississippi. CDF had a cultural enrichment committee, which worked with all of the arts organizations, resulting in our symphony orchestra and community theater and Gumtree Festival, all of which have celebrated their 40th anniversary or more. And before there was ever a Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, CDF had its retail merchants committee that worked with local businesses. In other words, CDF was a community wide organization that looked after the needs of everything and everyone. As my business career in the insurance industry developed, I was asked in 1978 to accept the Chairmanship of the CDF, which I was honored to do. At that time CDF had around 400 to 450 members. I distinctly remember one of our Board of Directors meetings where I challenged the board to take on the task of building our membership up to 1,000 members. Quite frankly the board thought I had lost my mind and some said so, but today the CDF has 1,149 members. Our community comes together to get things done under the banner of the Community Development Foundation, a program that has been heralded nationwide and copied by cities all across America. Just recently as a Past Chairman of the organization, I received the report from CDF’s President & CEO, David Rumbarger, on the year of 2020, and I want to share some of it with you. “Since COVID-19 struck, we have reached out to all our chamber members and small businesses multiple times to share information and offer our assistance with the CARES Act assistance programs. Over 1,900 Lee County’s small businesses utilized the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans provided by the SBA and local banks to protect and secure payroll for over 21,700 employees. Our banking community really stepped up during this time and worked long hours to help area businesses. In January 2020, Lee County‘s residence employment was 39,220 this employment number dipped to 32,310 by April, but surged back to 39,700 by September. Despite the devastating economic effects of COVID-19 on our communities employment has risen in Lee County by 1.2% since January 2020. Local companies have added $52.3 million in capital investment and $9.8 million in new payroll into the community this year.” “The CDF team also had the pleasure of working with over 120 of our local businesses to provide a 3-day help center for small businesses applying for the Mississippi Back to Business grants. We partnered with Lee County, the City of Tupelo, Three Rivers Planning and Development and Itawamba Community College in this workshop with CDF taking the lead. To date we have assisted over 270 businesses in applying for over $2.4 million in state assistance. This event was not restricted to only CDF members, but was an open event for all North Mississippi businesses.”
What Matters Most .... So, what happened? Tupelo created the Community Development Foundation and it has served Tupelo, Lee County, and all of Northeast Mississippi exceedingly well and will continue to do so with everyone’s support.
© 2020 #23 - Jim High can be reached at 20 Road 447, Iuka, MS 38852 or call 662-401-1932.