Top 2012 business stories in Northeast Mississippi

By Dennis Seid and Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal

The runners-up are listed on

BancorpSouth changes leadership
BancorpSouth looked outside its ranks and found a rising star in the banking industry when it named Dan Rollins its chief executive officer Nov. 26.
Rollins, 53, had been president and chief operating officer of Prosperity Bancshares of Houston, Texas.
He replaces Aubrey Patterson, who has been with BancorpSouth since 1972. Patterson was named president and CEO of the Tupelo-based financial holding company in 1990 and was tapped as chairman and CEO in 1991. He remains chairman at least until April, when the annual shareholders’ meeting is held.
Patterson, who also was directly involved in the selection process, said Rollins emerged early as a leading candidate. And he said BancorpSouth is in good hands.
In Rollins, BancorpSouth found a leader who likely will look for growth opportunities.
Prosperity acquired five Texas financial institutions in the past year alone. All but a handful of Prosperity’s branches have been obtained through merger and acquisition.
That naturally leads into talk that BancorpSouth will pursue a similar path.
Said Rollins in an interview not long after he started his new job, “From an opportunity standpoint, if you’re talking mergers and acquisitions, Texas is a target-rich environment. Does that mean some of those targets work for us? I couldn’t begin to tell you that.
“But obviously, and I’ll use this analogy my dad told me, if you’re going to go fishing, go where the fish are. … There will be significant bank consolidation over the next five, 10, 15 years. And if consolidation is going to come, it’s going to happen in places where there are a lot of banks.”

Toyota marks one-year anniversary
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi in Blue Springs marked one year of production Oct. 24.
Perhaps a bigger milestone was set earlier that month, when the Japanese automaker noted the plant had built its 100,000th Corolla.
That means the $800 million plant is on track to reach its capacity of 150,000 vehicles a year.
The 2,000 team members at the Blue Springs plant are assembling some 600 vehicles a day.
The Corolla is the world’s best selling vehicle of all time, and remains one of the top 10 vehicles in Toyota’s lineup in North America, its largest market.
TMMMS President Masafumi Hamaguchi recently marked two years at the plant.
“Compared to other Toyota plants, our team members still are very young,” he said. “We have been getting better and better every day. That makes me very proud and very happy.”
Toyota Mississippi also named a new vice president of administration.
Doug Formby, 57, replaced David Copenhaver, who retired this month.
Formby is responsible for all administrative functions of the plant, including human resources, general affairs, safety, accounting and finance and production control.

Elvis birthplace expands;
new Fairpark statue unveiled
Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation officials in August unveiled a $4.3 million expansion they hope will double visitation to the attraction during the next five years.
The work started in April 2011 and doubled the parking lot, added a 120-seat theater, created a 75-seat amphitheater, expanded the gift shop and created picnic areas and exhibit space.
The expansion is the first phase in a $6.3 million project. The next phase includes developing the overlook where Elvis would go to dream as a boy.
The birthplace projects are funded partially by a $2.8 million tourism bond bill approved by the state in 2010.
Tupelo also added a second statue of Elvis this year, thanks to the Tupelo Elvis Fan Club and the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau. In August, the larger-than-life statue of Elvis was unveiled in Fairpark, near where the musician performed in 1956 and 1957.

Furniture Market celebrates 25th anniversary
The Tupelo Furniture Market celebrated its silver anniverary in August at its fall market.
More importantly, perhaps, the market saw a surge in attendance and orders, according to most reports.
Kevin Seddon, the Tupelo Furniture Market’s president, made a concerted effort to get the word out about the market’s silver anniversary and its many giveaways. He also wanted to make a strong push for more buyers and exhibitors, and the work seems to have paid off.
“We made the changes we could make and will continue to make more. … you can always be better.”
TFM owner and CEO V.M. Cleveland said the furniture market will continue to be tweaked for exhibitors and buyers so that they’ll keep coming back.

Unemployment back under
double digits
Northeast Mississippi’s unemployment rate in November dropped to its lowest level in more than four years, falling to 7.9 percent.
That’s the lowest rate for the 16 counties in the region since April 2008, when it was 6.4 percent.
November’s rate was the eighth time this year the region’s jobless rate dipped below 10 percent. Coming into 2012, the region endured double-digit rates in all but one of the previous 36 months.
Through November, the region averaged 9.4 percent unemployment. Last year, it averaged 11.5 percent. In 2010, during the height of the recession, unemployment averaged 11.7 percent.
Tupelo air service experiences turbulence
Delta Air Lines ended its service to Memphis in October, and Silver Airways took over the subsidized service.
Silver, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., provides 18 weekly flights to Atlanta on Saab 340 turboprop aircraft, but the service got off to a bumpy start.
The first flight was delayed by weather, but the biggest problem was potential passengers couldn’t book flights on Delta’s reservation system as promised. Customers also had early problems booking flights on Silver’s website. Those issues have since been worked out.
However, Tupelo Regional will board fewer than 10,000 passengers this year, which means it will miss out on $1 million in federal money.

More hotels going up in Tupelo
A hotel building boom of sorts is ongoing in Tupelo, with two major renovations and two construction projects in 2012.
The former Regal Inn and Suites on McCullough Boulevard – formerly a Microtel Inn – is getting a complete makeover. It converted to a Comfort Inn this fall and should reopen in early 2013.
The Courtyard Marriott in December completed a $1.9 million renovation, marking its first major makeover since opening 15 years ago.
At the busy intersection of McCullough Boulevard and North Gloster Street, the former Howard Johnson came down to make room for a 121-room Holiday Inn and Suites and a 79-room Candlewood Suites. Both hotels are expected to open in 2013.

New stores, restaurants, apartments open
More than 50 new businesses opened this year in Lee County.
The list is filled with many retailers and restaurants. In January, Buffalo Wild Wings opened and was greeted by a line of people who had camped out for a chance at free wings for a year.
This year also marked the first Indian restaurant to open in Lee County – Shaan India Palace. In the fall, Bombay Grill became the first Indian restaurant to open in Tupelo.
The Mall at Barnes Crossing also announced plans to grow its store count. Sephora opened inside JCPenney this year and D’Casa opened a location inside the mall. Gap Factory Store, Chico’s and Express are expected to open in 2013.
Plus, Tupelo is adding to its apartment inventory. The 216-unit Boggan Estates opened on McCullough Boulevard, and nearby, the 150-unit Mills at McCullough should open in February. They are two of the four apartment complexes, representing more than 700 units, to have been built since 2009.

Furniture manufacturing, others see growth
Manufacturing companies reinvested in their facilities this year, signaling a positive move for the region’s economy.
Two furniture companies announced expansions this year.
Pontotoc-based Southern Motion expanded into Baldwyn, opening in July. The company, which employs more than 1,000 in Pontotoc, added 60 people in Baldwyn. Officials plan to have 150 at the facility, and could add up to 400 employees within four years if business warrants.
Also in Baldwyn, H.M. Richards in October broke ground on a $1.5 million expansion that could add more workers to its 650-strong workforce. It’s the company’s seventh expansion since its founding 15 years ago. The company already has added more than 100 workers and two production lines this year.
General Atomics also expanded this year. In May, the Shannon facility announced a $12 million expansion that will add 25 new jobs over the next three years. It’s the seventh expansion for the advanced manufacturing company, which has a facility in the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South complex.
In Iuka, two companies at Yellow Creek Port are expected to add at least 100 jobs in the near future.
Michigan-based Dennen Steel anticipates adding 50 employees to its $7.4 million facility, while Holly Springs-based Contract Fabricators expects to add 50 within the next year.

Beer and liquor
At least 75 new beers are now legal to buy in Mississippi.
The Legislature in April approved bills that would raise the alcohol by weight in beer from 5 percent to 8 percent. It opens the door for a greater selection of craft and imported beers and was widely supported by the state’s tourism, hospitality and restaurant sectors.
The increased limits took effect July 1, with many restaurants and stores increasing their selection.
Several Northeast Mississippi cities this year also moved to change alcohol regulations.
In December, voters in Corinth approved legal liquor and wine sales by a margin of more than 2-1 in the first election under a new state law that allows city-only votes on liquor. The sale of liquor and wine had been outlawed since a countywide vote in 1989, which OK’d the legal sale of beer.
Ashland held a vote Dec. 18 and it did not pass.
A citizens group in New Albany now is petitioning for a similar vote under the law. Union County voted against legalizing liquor in 2008 and again earlier this year – the second time by a wider margin than the first. New Albany voters approved legalization of beer and light wine in January 2010.

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