By Billy Crews/NEMS Daily Journal
We have a lot to celebrate. Lee County is 144 years in the making, and Tupelo is 140 years in the making, having been chartered in 1870, the same year the company I represent, Journal, Inc. was started, no small achievement in a changing world and economy. Forty years ago on this night at the 1970 annual meeting of CDF, the then-owner of the Journal and one of the founders of CDF, George McLean, gave a keynote address at that meeting.
These are some of my favorite quotations from his remarks about community development that are still applicable today:
- “Opportunity is what you make of what you have.”
- “You help create your own opportunities. You are part of the creative process.”
- “No one is going to give you the good life, the good community, the good family.”
- “There is no great leader here to do what you and I need to do.”
- “Each of us has been given the marvelous privilege of rendering ‘personal services of the spirit’ and we cannot hire some to do these works … for us.”
- “Remember every time you see an undeveloped child … he is a vital part of my community.”
- “Don’t wring your hands and say where are we going to get the money or the wisdom to do what is required here and now in our community.”
- “Men (and women) are God’s methods.”
- “A city of excellence is based on the quality of the lives of all of its people.”
It is amazing how much the world has changed since 1970. It is perhaps even more amazing how the world has stayed the same in terms of what is fundamentally true and important in building a great community.
The three strategies in a new Tupelo Plan that I will focus on are challenging initiatives that will launch us into our future in new ways:
- One key strategy is the continued birthing of our own local companies through local investment and investors. This is exactly the purpose of the Renasant Center for Ideas and our recently announced phase II expansion. The question and challenge becomes how do we grow more businesses and more innovative start-up companies. One way is in establishing an Angel Network of Investors, as cited in strategy 4.3. The most successful incubator programs in the country match individuals who have money with entrepreneurs who have new business ideas and ventures that need to grow and expand. Smart, high growth companies will start and stay in Lee County if we successfully begin such an investor network.
- The second key strategy I want us to focus on is not new, but it is fundamental to our ongoing economic success. We have built a robust manufacturing sector during the past 61 years through your CDF investments. With 167 manufacturing companies located in Lee County and 11,755 manufacturing jobs, sustaining and expanding our existing industries in an ever-changing economy is a logical and key strategy.
- The third strategy calls for us to “Create a Lee County Alumni Network.”
Imagine the National Merit finalists, the Academic Decathletes and the Rotary Scholars of our Tupelo and Lee County school systems making their homes across the country and world. They, too, can be investors and ambassadors for their hometown. Now imagine these same younger or older adults who got their start here coming home and being part of our emerging high tech and “green” companies or part of the soon-to-be burgeoning automotive cluster in our region. And imagine them being the entrepreneurs who come back and start a new company in our “Cool Community” as former CDF chairman and now Mayor Jack Reed has described one key attribute of our new economy.
Hear this, if you hear nothing else: Everyone in this room tonight is and has the ability to be a great leader in some area of our community. We are all community developers. CDF needs your leadership, your ideas and your vision.
What is important is what we do after tonight, tomorrow and during this next year to build our community, to build business opportunity, to build more and better jobs, to build educational achievement and build new participants in the 61-year vision that is CDF.
It has been by hard work; it has been by creative thinking; and it has been by cooperation that we have moved forward and it is through your support of and involvement in CDF that we have built what we are all a part of today.
Stay tuned for the successes of another great CDF year.
Billy Crews is chairman of Journal, Inc. and he became CDF chairman on May 6. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.