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Tupelo, MS and Lee County Set the Pace for Economic Development

Additions, expansions build economy

By Phil Newman on September 24, 2015

Tupelo, MS
Tupelo / Courtesy of Rens van Mierlo

Business keeps booming in Tupelo/Lee County, thanks to an abundance of new companies and expansions that have vaulted the city to No. 8 among the 576 U.S. “micropolitans†for job creation and invested capital.

The numbers are impressive: In the fiscal year ended April 30, 2015 Tupelo/Lee County registered 15 projects – six new ventures, nine expansions – totaling $47 million in capital investment and generating 900 new jobs, with a $27 million impact on payroll, according to the Community Development Foundation (CDF).

Leading the way are United Furniture Industries, which is moving its manufacturing functions into the former Lane Furniture building in Verona; Raybern Foods, which is expanding manufacturing for its heat-and-serve sandwiches from California into the former Sara Lee building in Tupelo; and Phillips Lighting, whose Tupelo facility is undergoing a $2 million, 50-job expansion.

Other highlights include the $142 million expansion and renovation of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s operations, along with the move of Grammer Inc.’s U.S. headquarters and manufacturing facility to Lee County.

Eclectic Industry Mix

Among the notable aspects of Tupelo/Lee County’s growth is the diverse range of industries represented, from automotive and food to lighting and furniture.

“We fight for that diversity, not only to provide different opportunities for workers, but also as a hedge against retrenchment or an economic downtown in one industry,†says David Rumbarger, CDF president and CEO. “It helps us balance the economic development structure of the community to pursue a diverse manufacturing and employment base.”

Old Is New Again

As much as new facilities boost the economy, it’s equally encouraging when formerly occupied spaces get new occupants such as United and Raybern, Rumbarger says.

“That speaks to the viability of our community,†he says. “Being able to fill an existing industrial facility provides an infusion of new employment and takes an empty building off the block. It’s especially positive with a food-product building like Raybern’s, and it’s neat to win a California company’s expansion away from the west coast.”

In Cooper Tire’s case, the company is investing in new technology and processes to update its Tupelo plant into “a world-class production facility,†Rumbarger says. “If we had not been able to do that, we would still be competing with 30-year-old machinery in a technology-based market against Chinese and European companies. This ensures a strong future with Cooper Tire in the Tupelo area over the next 20 to 30 years.”

Taking the Marathon Approach

It’s no accident that Rumbarger speaks in terms of decades rather than years. He and his CDF cohorts believe in a long-term approach to success.

That approach is working – to the tune of 5,000-plus new jobs created, $673 million of capital invested, and a 12 percent increase in Lee County’s average wage over the past 10 years.

“We try to communicate an economic development philosophy of a marathon, not a dash,†Rumbarger says. “We want to be consistent, year by year by year, in creating better jobs and bringing in new capital that allows our community to keep growing.”

“We want to be consistent, year by year by year, in creating better jobs and bringing in new capital that allows our community to keep growing.”

David Rumbarger
President and CEO, Community Development Foundation
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