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By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Jimmy Blaylock wanted to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his business in a big way on Friday.
So he brought royalty – well, wrestling royalty – to his gift and novelty shop, Fun World, on South Green Street.
Scores of people waited in a long line to get photos of and autographs from Jerry “The King” Lawler, an iconic wrestler and commentator popular in World Wrestling Entertainment.
“He was here for our 10th anniversary, and I wanted to bring him back for this,” said Blaylock, a big wrestling fan.
Lawler, 64, was born in Memphis, and rose to popularity in the 1970s after getting his start in regional wrestling promotions in the mid-South. He joined the then-World Wrestling Federation in 1992.
Fans of all ages lined up as much as an hour early to get a chance to meet Lawler, who signed books, programs and even scraps of paper for free.
Professional photos of Lawler were on sale for $10 as well.
“I came to see Jerry Lawler,” said Chuck Herrington, who stood behind at least 100 people. Herrington had a copy of Lawler’s book, “It’s Good to be King,” for the wrestler to sign. “I remember watching him when I was in high school. … he’s a legend.”
Briley Merchant came with his parents and siblings as well to meet the king. Merchant didn’t have a book or photo of Lawler, however – he had his action figure.
It was clear Blaylock was happy to draw a big crowd to join in Fun World’s anniversary celebration.
“Not very many businesses can say they’re 30 years old, and I’ve been blessed by the good people of Northeast Mississippi through the years,” he said. “I’m a big wrestling fan myself, and it had been a long time for a lot of people here in Tupelo to see him and I’m glad he could come back.”
By Dennis Seid
BLUE SPRINGS – The world’s best-selling car is about to find its way to even more customers.
More than 41 million Toyota Corollas have been sold globally since the car’s debut in 1966, and soon, Mississippi-made Corollas will be landing in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi rolled out its first export-bound Corolla on Thursday, the first of 7,500 this year.
“This is a significant milestone for us,” said TMMMS Vice President of Administration Sean Suggs.
Essentially, this marks the plant’s third model in less than three years. When Toyota Mississippi began production in October 2011, it started with the last-generation Corolla. The latest generation was introduced last summer, and the export version – while sharing the same platform and many components – is tweaked for the new markets.
For example, new engine specifications and emissions are required for the Latin America- and Caribbean-bound Corollas, and other options on the car differ, too.
Still, they’ll be built side-by-side Corollas sold in the U.S., and only a keen eye will be able to distinguish between the models.
The redesigned Corolla has maintained its position as one of the best-selling compact cars in the industry, and finding customers in new areas will strengthen its hold.
“We feel like we should take advantage of the export market,” said Nihar Patel, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s vice president of North America Business Strategy.
Toyota, which began exporting vehicles from its North American plants in 1998, already sold more than 130,000 vehicles in China, Russia, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand last year.
The 7,500 Corollas being sent from Toyota Mississippi will be spread among 18 countries, leaving plenty of growth opportunities.
“It’s the upper class, the middle class in those countries that want American-built products,” Patel said. “When we’ve shown them the products (we have), they feel exhilarated. … last year, we sold 1.3 million Corollas globally. It’s a fantastic opportunity we have in those new markets.”
By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – It’s not often that a 400,000-pound jumbo jet does a couple of flyovers, but that’s exactly what a hulking Boeing 747 did Thursday over Tupelo Regional Airport.
The plane belonged to All Nippon Airways of Japan, which retired the last of its nearly 50 samples of the iconic aircraft.
“The first 747 we first purchased 35 years ago,” said Keijiro Ota, deputy director of marketing and sales planning for ANA. “This is the very last of its kind for our airline.”
Designated JA8961, the widebody passenger jet landed without a hitch. As it made its way down the runway, a pair of Tupelo Fire Department trucks sprayed water in the air, a symbolic salute. The plane then made its way to Universal Asset Management, where it will be disassembled, its valuable engines and other parts sold and used in other 747s around the world.
A small contingent of ANA officials, joined by airport and city leaders, marked the occasion Thursday with an official retirement ceremony.
Two weeks ago, when JA8962 made its final flight from Okinawa to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, the plane was packed with 500 passengers. Thousands of people reportedly lined the streets to bid farewell to the plane.
A small portion of that devoted following came to Tupelo, taking plenty of photos as they toured the plane.
Among the well-wishers were 27 tourists from Japan, who paid as much as $8,000 to fly to the U.S., spend two nights in Tupelo and take part in the ceremony.
It’s not the first ANA plane to land in Tupelo.
UAM, which opened its Tupelo disassembly operations in 2012, has worked with ANA for the past four years. It has taken 10 of the company’s planes during that time.
“We’re honored to be part of this milestone for the 747, ANA and Japan,” said UAM Chief Executive Officer Keri Wright, who later gave ANA officials paintings of the plane that were made on other retired ANA 747 plane parts.
In addition, Mayor Jason Shelton gave ANA officals a key to the city.
By Dennis Seid
One of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s main missions is economic development, and the utility company’s top executive is seeing firsthand what is happening across its footprint.
“Our job is to help attract and keep bring businesses here, and I want to know why people come here,” said TVA Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson. “I’m interesting in seeing what we can learn and what more we can do.”
In the past 18 months, more than 6,000 jobs have been created or retained in Northeast Mississippi, with capital investments totaling more than $1.4 billion.
While TVA isn’t directly responsible for those jobs and investment, it has played a key role in providing resources and infrastructure – namely cost-effective electricity – to help economic developers recruit and retain businesses.
Johnson tours the Valley three times a week.
On Wednesday, Johnson toured the Tecumseh manufacturing facility in Verona and the Yokohama Tire site in West Point.
At Tecumseh, Johnson toured the facility with general manager Joe Kulovitz and other company officials as they showed a new expansion. Last July, Tecumseh announced it was building its advanced commercial refrigeration compressor. The $10 million project, with $4 million coming from a low-interest loan from the Mississippi Development Authority and $600,000 in infrastructure and other improvements, could bring 150 jobs in the next five years.
Without MDA and TVA, the project would not have happened, Kulovitz told Johnson.
“We’re the only U.S. facility left, and it could have gone anywhere in the world,” he said. “But that assistance got the project here.”
In West Point, Yokohama is working on its $300 million commercial-tire manufacturing facility, which will initially employ 500 people. Three other phases could bring another $700 million investment and another 1,500 jobs.
Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi is expected to open next year.
“Good jobs are coming to Mississippi and it is vital that we keep job opportunities growing,” Johnson said. “The two companies I saw today are among the dozens that have put down roots in the Magnolia State in the past two years. TVA is proud to have played a role with our many partners in these successes.”
PONTOTOC – Genesis Furniture Co. in Pontotoc has closed, according to a notice issued by the Mississippi Department of mployment Security.
The move, announced to employees April 4, affects 63 workers.
According to the notice, “the closure of Genesis Furniture is due to a decline and or lack of orders, demand for products and competition from other furniture manufacturing companies who obtain cut-and-sewn components from overseas.”
Rapid Response orientation sessions for laid-off employees are scheduled for Friday, April 25 at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the Pontotoc WIN Job Center, 182 Highway 15 N in Pontotoc.
Help with writing résumés, job training opportunities and other services will be offered.
By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – While Silver Airways announced last week it was ending commercial air service in Tupelo, officials with the Tupelo Regional Airport think a replacement carrier could be in place as early as August.
By law, Silver must continue service until a replacement is found. The U.S. Department of Transportation will issue an RFQ (request for proposal) for airlines interested in providing the service. The winning airline will get a federal subsidy, via the Essential Air Service program, to provide that service.
That RFQ could be out in the next couple of weeks, then as the proposals are entered, the public can weigh in on the options.
According to Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson, if everything falls into place, the winning carrier could be selected as early as June, with the new carrier perhaps operational by August.
However, that depends on the airline that’s selected, the number of planes in its fleet and the number of pilots it has.
Abramson also said getting a 50-seat regional jet, like the ones Delta Air Lines was using during the last few months it was providing service prior to leaving the market, and which it uses in Columbus, is not a likely option for Tupelo.
The problem, he said, is there’s not enough demand in Tupelo to fill a 50-seater, and even linking with Greenville or Muscle Shoals, as Delta and Silver have done, still won’t provide the numbers an airline would need to maintain profitability.
So who will bid for Tupelo’s service? It’s not known, but since Silver announced in February it was leaving the Cleveland market, the RFPs are due and the bidders for that service will be revealed soon. Abramson said Tupelo can take cues from that list of bidders.
Meanwhile, Silver’s flights will continue in and out of Tupelo until a replacement is found, Abramson reiterated. Also, updates to service, as available, will be put on the airport’s website.
TUPELO – A Tupelo native with flying experience and who also is a practicing attorney has been nominated to the Tupelo Airport Authority.
Lawrence Deas has been tapped by Mayor Jason Shelton to fill the term of David Parker, who resigned last month.
Deas’ nomination is on the City Council agenda for tonight.
Parker, who left for personal reasons, was a retired former pilot and instructor for FedEx. He was named to the board last year to replace Jim Frerer, whose term expired.
In naming Deas, Shelton said, “He’s a person who has the best interests of Tupelo at heart, and will be mindful of the needs of the authority and the city and its citizens.”
Deas, 43, graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies. He received his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2000.
He is a firm member of Deas & Deas LLC.
Deas, who is a licensed pilot, said he looks forward to taking some time in absorbing as much information about the operations of the airport as he can.
“I want to learn about the needs and challenges they face at the airport,” he said.
In regard to having a pilot’s license, he said his familiarity should be an asset.
“I know some of the people on the general aviation side,” he said.
And as an attorney, Deas said the board has to deal with leases and other issues on which he can offer some assistance.
“I’m looking forward to serving on the board,” he said. “There are some great challenges and great opportunities. … the airport is a tremendous asset. Most people don’t have an appreciation for such a great facility that we have here in Tupelo.”
They came and they failed. Miserably. Silver Airways, after a disastrous 18-month experiment to provide commercial air service in Tupelo, has thrown in the towel.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla-based airline last week gave its 90-day notice to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Tupelo, Hattiesburg, Greenville and Meridian that it was ending its routes to Atlanta.
Silver, however, is required to continue its subsidized service until a substitute carrier is selected by the DOT.
So, more late and canceled flights are on the horizon for those cities.
To be sure, everybody was hoping for the best that Silver would succeed. It had the 34-passenger Saab turboprops that passengers in Tupelo enjoyed for years through Northwest and Delta. It was flying into Atlanta, a hub to go anywhere in the world.
City leaders from Tupelo and outside Tupelo threw their support behind Silver. The alternative was another carrier’s 9-seat single-engine plane, with a promise to move up to an 18-seat plane the next year.
The Transportation Department chose Silver’s two-year, $16.1 million bid, but noted that it was concerned about the higher price. However, Tupelo, like the other cities, all thought Silver was the better option.
We were sadly mistaken.
Trouble began brewing when the airline pushed back its start date. Then its online ticketing was a mess, and other website issues continued to plague the airline. Promises to get a code-share agreement with Delta and a link with the SkyMiles frequent flyer program were never met.
The first flight out of Tupelo to Atlanta was delayed for more than eight hours, but weather had a big role in that.
But weather wasn’t the cause of countless other delays and cancellations during the past 18 months.
Silver said new federal limitations caused a pilot shortage – which is indeed an industry-wide problem with the regional airlines. And it said “significantly lower than expected passenger enplanements” made it “uneconomical” for the airline to continue flying.
But it didn’t mention its own poor record or its sheer incompetence in trying to run its operations. Reliability was a foreign concept.
One of our photographers went to Tupelo Regional to shoot the incoming flight from Greenville on Wednesday. Surprise – it was 90 minutes late.
Airport and city officials were as patient as they could be with Silver, but the public was far less forgiving, and who could blame them? Having a flight canceled and being stranded in an airport hundreds of miles away doesn’t inspire confidence.
Perhaps in this next round of bidding, we can get a reliable airline, one that will under-promise and over-deliver rather than the other way around.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or email@example.com
By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – A customer looking to fill a prescription doesn’t have to look hard these days.
The nation’s largest pharmacies, Walgreens and CVS, battle for prime locations; big-box retailers like Walmart and Fred’s have pharmacies inside their stores; and grocery shoppers at large chains like Kroger also can get the medications they need.
Undeterred, independent pharmacists like Ben Burns say there’s a need – and a demand – for small drugstores like his.
“With the big-box stores, there’s no personal service,” he said. “And I love having that personal service.”
Burns is quite familiar with being a pharmacist and running a pharmacy.
He’s the owner of Rushing Drugs in Iuka, as well as Burnsville Discount Drugs. On April 2, he opened Tupelo Family Pharmacy on East Main Street.
Rushing was founded in 1942, and Burns’ father bought the store in the 1950s. In 1997, Burns bought the pharmacy, and seven years later he opened the Burnsville pharmacy.
His latest venture, in Tupelo, is on a prime location he first eyed nearly a year ago. The pharmacy at 1244 E. Main St., sits between Sav-A-Lot and Dollar General. Across the street is a Fred’s.
“I think we’re in a great location,” he said, noting that traffic flows from Mooreville, as well as Plantersville into east Tupelo.
Operating the store are pharmacists Jared Bounds and Eddie Armstrong and pharmacy tech Erica Burcham.
Bounds and Armstrong have more than three decades of pharmacy experience between them, having worked at a variety of stores.
Both say working in an independent pharmacy is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of a big-box store.
“There are other options for customers, but we know we’re going to provide that personal service that they’re not going to get at a big box store,” Bounds said.
Armstrong agreed, noting that long waits at an independent pharmacy are the exception rather than the norm.
“You’ve already spent a few hours with a doctor, why should you have to wait even more at a pharmacy?” he said.
Tupelo Family Pharmacy joins ZIP Scripts as the only independently owned drugstores still operating in the All-America City. Others have been swallowed up by national chains.
Walgreens and CVS have nearly16,000 stores between them across the country, while WalMart has nearly 4,200 stores in the U.S. And most of its stores also have pharmacies.
Those large chains have cut into the number of independent stores during the past three decades, as their number was cut in half by the mid-1990s. Today, about 23,000 independent pharmacies remain, their revenue accounting for about 30 percent of the $250 billion pharmacy and drug store industry.
The market in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi is only a small drop in that big bucket, but independents like Tupelo Family Pharmacy and ZIP Scripts think there’s plenty of business to share.
Quick and personalized service are these stores’ hallmarks, along with having the products and prices customers want.
“Our prices are competitive,” Burcham said. “We’re even lower on some things. … and we’re going to treat you like a person, not like a number.”
The aging Baby Boomer generation, healthcare reform and continued drug developments will underpin revenue growth and intensify competition, IBISWorld said.
Which means there’s room to grow and expand further, Burns said.
“I’d like to build out (in) west (Tupelo) eventually,” he said. “But we’re going to get established here first and see what happens.”
TUPELO FAMILY PHARMACY
• Address: 1244 E. Main St., Tupelo
• Hours: Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; closed Sunday
• Phone: (662) 844-7811
• Facebook: Tupelo Family Pharmacy
By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – In a move that was not unexpected, Silver Airways said Wednesday it is ending its service for Tupelo.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based airline, which has provided federally subsidized air service between Tupelo and Atlanta since October 2012, said the move was “part of its plan to strengthen operations, increase revenue, reduce costs, and better position the airline for future growth and other opportunities.”
Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson said Silver flights will continue, however.
“The next step is that the U.S. Department of Transportation will issue a hold-in-service order, which means Silver has to continue service until a suitable replacement is found,” he said.
Silver is cutting many of its routes to Atlanta and redeploying its aircraft and employees elsewhere. The announcement follows Silver’s move in February to exit the Cleveland market, which included DuBois, Bradford and Franklin in Pennsylvania as well as Jamestown, N.Y, and Parkersburg, W.Va.
Said Silver President and CEO Dave Pflieger in a statement, “While we have been privileged to be able to serve these cities from Atlanta for the past year-and-a-half, multiple factors have combined to make it economically impossible for us to continue flying in these markets. New federal regulations related to flight and duty limitations, as well as increased requirements related to new hire pilot certification, have had the unintended effect of creating a nationwide shortage of regional airline pilots. Those facts, coupled with significantly lower than expected passenger enplanements in most of our Atlanta-network cities have made it uneconomical for us to continue serving these communities.”
He used the same language when Silver announced it was leaving the Cleveland market.
Last year, boardings at Tupelo fell to 5,190, down from 8,232 the year before and 11,961 in 2011. Five years earlier, a record 31,334 boarding were recorded, but the airport also was served by two airlines.
By law, Silver provided a 90-day notice to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The move also means the eventual end of service to Greenville, Laurel/Hattiesburg, Meridian, and to Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Abramson said Silver will continue to fly its 12-flights-per-week schedule in Tupelo, and the airport will have a webpage dedicated to the process in which a new carrier will be selected.
Ironically, Silver was picked by the USDOT two years ago as a replacement for Delta Air Lines, when it announced in July 2011 it was ending service in 24 communities nationwide, including Tupelo, Greenville and Hattiesburg.
Silver received a two-year guaranteed subsidy totaling nearly $16.1 million to provide service to Tupelo (with a link to Greenville), Hattiesburg and Meridian. The Hattiesburg subsidy cost $2.97 million, while the Greenville-Tupelo subsidy cost $7.04 million. The DOT at the time also raised concerns about Silver’s higher subsidy but chose the airline anyway.
Silver began service in October 2012, taking over subsidized service from Delta. But Silver stumbled from the start, with a delayed service launch, website issues, flight delays and cancellations and an inability to code share with Delta as had been expected.
Abramson said DOT will announce a time frame for bids from airlines interested in providing service – the same procedure it followed when Delta made its announcement in 2011. Four airlines ultimately bid to provide service in Tupelo, with the finalists being Silver and Air Choice One.
Abramson said he expects some of the same airlines to bid for service again. He also is meeting with “six or seven” other airlines to gauge their interest.