EDITORIAL: Pulling people in

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Community Development Foundation’s 2010 annual meeting last week was eye-opening for members and guests who may have forgotten and who have not known how long the five-star economy-building organization has been making its mark.
CDF, whose job-building work extends into the region in cooperation with other, similar organization, began in 1948 and, Thursday night, started its seventh 10-year plan, The Lee County Plan – the latest version of the “Tupelo Plan” introduced in 1952.
The three-goal plan’s foundation rests on history and success: the Existing Industry Program, a thorough and focused method of building on the strengths of existing employers, networking with them, and broadly supporting public policy that is generally beneficial, and occasionally specific.
In one strategy, CDF calls for leveraging the assets for growth of the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, both with an academic/practical presence in Lee County.
More effectively using and working with both schools – whose alumni base flourishes across the region – would focus on joint cooperative economic development ventures. That tack, in turn, would link with CDF’s own development strategies through operations like The Renasant Center for IDEAS, a business incubator whose site soon will house CDF’s operations.
Regional collaboration would be enhanced under the goal to diversify with advanced technologies, a natural extension of the three-county PUL Alliance’s development of the Wellspring site, home of a new Toyota assembly plant and, soon, it is hoped, auto production.
The networking of work force issues, site development, public infrastructure, professional services and incentives programs all falls under the advanced technologies goal.
The third goal, articulated more clearly than in any previous CDF focus, would seek to attract, retain and develop talent, especially in the well-educated and talented young adults from the region who too often look elsewhere – often of necessity – to make a good living.
The creation of a Lee County Alumni Network would reach out into the ranks of young professionals, including those who have moved away but whose potential could be realized in the region with the right factors in play.
Other development organizations also have turned their attention to recruiting/retaining young adults.
One factor in the interest is that the baby boom generation is retiring, and young adults, whether white collar or well-educated blue-collar, are hard to find.
In Memphis, a Tupelo competitor, employers have paid for recruits to be matched with hip young professionals “in a sort of corporate Big Brothers program.”
A new biosciences research has been built blocks from the Beale Street entertainment district.
By 2012, a New York Times article reported, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.
Population trends, of which Lee County leaders are strongly aware, have forced communities to fight for college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future.
The group, called “the young and restless” in the Times report, are sought because their chances of moving drop “precipitously” when they turn 35.
“Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade,” the Times reported.
Tupelo and Lee County also must battle for what Richard Florida, a public policy professor at George Mason University has called “the creative class” – that those cities having a “significant share of the young and restless are in the best position to attract more.”
The coompetition is joined, and the CDF’s plan to more fully engage the issue for the long term will be a major factor in Lee County/Tupelo’s future prosperity.