CDF was established in 1948 for the purpose of combining all of Tupelo/Lee County’s efforts to improve its economy and quality of life.
Over the past 60 years, CDF has succeeded and re-invented itself many times to meet ever changing economic and community challenges, but our primary purpose has not changed – to generate more and better jobs for our area. I offer seven principles that continue to guide our organization and have contributed to our success in the past 60 years, especially in 2009.
- Leadership: Our community has been blessed with lighthouse leaders. Leadership is a very difficult thing to measure or explain, but is essential to the long-term effectiveness of any organization. Thankfully, CDF has maintained a seamless transfer of leadership, changing of the guard year to year.
In a CDF Board meeting, we say to check your personal hat at the door and take on a community hat as you enter the board room.
- Visioning: Jack Reed, Sr., says, “Never underestimate a community that over-estimates itself.” I firmly believe that our community has over-achieved because of the big dreams we dared to pursue. After six years of visioning, planning, and marketing CDF, as part of the PUL Alliance, was successful in recruiting Toyota and numerous suppliers to our region.
That same can-do attitude served us well this year as we competed for the retention and expansion of Cooper Tire and Rubber Company. This must-win effort put together a winning proposal, retaining and expanding a direct payroll of over $85 million annually.
Another vision realized began in 1996; our community had an idea to provide every graduating high school senior in our community the opportunity to go to college. Last year, the Lee County Board of Supervisors and CREATE Foundation, using private endowment funds, established the Lee County/Marchbanks Helping Hand Tuition Guarantee Program. Beginning with the Class of 2009, students of Lee County, graduating from public or private high schools, are eligible to receive two full years of tuition-free assistance to Itawamba Community College.
Visions or dreams, by the virtue of good things, take time; and often exceed political election cycles, but public support for projects is essential for them to be realized.
- Keep the Focus: After 60 years of achievement history, we continually have to remind ourselves – business leaders, public officials, and other community organizations – what our fundamental purpose and focus is and just as important, what is not part of our core mission. We have to continually restate to ourselves and to the community the one clear and defined purpose for our organization – more and better jobs.
- Community Trust: Trust is earned and lost by an organization’s actions and relationships. CDF cannot makes laws or pass tax incentives. Maintaining the public officials’ trust is essential to our success.
Our partnerships with many community multipliers are vital to help us as we strive to better our community and organization.
- Professional Team: CDF has a performance-based work environment that manages on this philosophy. We have learned that high capacity leaders and top performers desire a work atmosphere that holds everyone accountable and values everyone’s worth.
- Financial Diversity and Strength: A professional team and the organization’s programs and services cost money. The more money, the more programs and services you can provide. If an organization is predominantly funded through one source, typically its programs and services are predominantly focused and biased toward this source. It also creates a risk of financial exposure. Our revenue source and percentage are as follows: public contributions, 20 percent, memberships 35 percent, planning services 5 percent, and property management, 40 percent. CDF is not in the business to make money, but cannot be in business without it.
- Flywheel Effect: Momentum is a wonderful thing when it is going your way and a terrible thing to try to start. Our organization has momentum because of the collective movement of all of these principles, and our challenge is to continue to find creative new ways and improvements, as CDF has for 60 years, that will increase our effectiveness.
Our challenge is: how will we leave our time at CDF? Truly we owe our achievements to standing on the strong shoulders of our past, and that strength will sustain us in these tough economic times as we, CDF, seeks a better future for Tupelo and Lee County.
Mitch Waycaster, a banker, is the 2008-2009 chairman of the Community Development Foundation. His comments were excerpted from his address to annual meeting of the CDF on April 30.
NEMS Daily Journal