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Young Leaders Carry on the Tupelo Story

Tupelo's Community Development Foundation and a new generation of leaders are keeping the community prosperous and strong.

By Jennie Bradford Curlee on May 12, 2014

Community Development Foundation Center in downtown Tupelo
Tupelo / Brian McCord

Tupelo/Lee County, Mississippi was once the poorest county in the poorest state in the country. Today, it is one of the top micropolitan areas for new and expanded corporate facilities in the country, according to Site Selection. The same ingenuity and spirit of cooperation that transformed this community is still at work here, and as a new generation of leadership comes forward, it is more important than ever that the “Tupelo Spirit†lives on.

It All Began With a Bull

Tupelo’s progressive rise to success began in the early 1940s, with a bull. Through the vision of community pioneer, George McLean, 17 businessmen invested in an artificial insemination program that gave rise to the dairy industry in Tupelo. A few short years later, McLean’s “Tupelo Plan†led to the charter of the Community Development Foundation (CDF), Tupelo/Lee County’s economic development and chamber of commerce organization.

Through the efforts of CDF, Lee County attracted its first industry in 1947, became the upholstered furniture manufacturing capitol of the world in the 1980’s, and recruited Toyota’s eighth North American automotive assembly plant in 2007. The collaboration that made McLean’s vision a reality is still bringing prosperity to this model community today.

Dr. Vaughn Grisham serves as the director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi. He has immersed himself in the Tupelo Story, penning the book Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community. He presents Tupelo as a model of success to his students and communities across the country. Dr. Grisham often shares that the distinction between leaders and leadership is that a leader is the person and leadership involves his relationships. The “Tupelo Spirit†is found within these relationships.

Developing Relationships, Producing Leaders

It is vitally important to Tupelo/Lee County that tomorrow’s leaders comprehend and embrace the “Tupelo Spirit,†today. CDF understands this and is actively creating programs that develop relationships and produce leaders. Its foremost platform is the Jim Ingram Community Leadership Institute (CLI).

The leadership program was created by CDF and the CREATE Foundation to train Tupelo/Lee County’s next generation of leaders. The program provides a community orientation on such topics as economic and community development, education, health care and local government, as well as comprehensive sessions on leadership skills training.

“Similar to a sports team, every community must have bench strength. The Jim Ingram CLI provides training and development for potential community leaders,†says David Rumbarger, CDF president and CEO. “This new cadre of experienced and focused volunteers is a wellspring of talent to the many community organizations that need volunteers to improve the area’s quality of life.”

The second year of CLI focuses on community reinvestment. Class members complete projects based on a defined community need. The work that goes into these projects is the epitome of the “Tupelo Spirit,†in that classmates must work together to devise a solution for the betterment of everyone in Tupelo/Lee County.

CDF is furthering McLean’s mission to make Tupelo a better place for all its citizens through the leaders who are trained in the Jim Ingram CLI. The story of this city’s transformation began with the vision of George McLean, and the future is being authored by the young leaders who will carry the “Tupelo Spirit†to the next generation.

Similar to a sports team, every community must have bench strength. The Jim Ingram CLI provides training and development for potential community leaders

David Rumbarger, CDF president and CEO
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