Max Hipp named LOU Citizen of the Year

Max D. Hipp, retired President and CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation, was honored Tuesday night by the twin organizations as their Citizen of the Year.

Hipp, an Oxford native who had been an economic developer in Greensboro, North Carolina, after graduating from the University of Mississippi, returned home to take the Chamber’s reins after it had lost the confidence of municipal and business leaders.

“He does this, I think, at great risk to his career,” said Tom Sharpe, who presented the award. “He does it because he sees what can be, not what is, and he wants to make a difference in the place he grew up, and the place he loves.”

Max Hipp, recently retired chief executive officer of Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation, was honored Tuesday as the organizations' 2014 Citizen of the Year. | Errol Castens

Max Hipp, recently retired chief executive officer of Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation, was honored Tuesday as the organizations’ 2014 Citizen of the Year. | Errol Castens

Shortly after taking the job, Hipp launched the EDF, which eventually led to the recruitment of such industries as Caterpillar and Winchester. Under his leadership, the Chamber strengthened efforts to recruit and support professionals, started a retirement recruitment program that has drawn more than 1,000 retiree households to the county, helped establish the Enterprise Center in conjunction with Grenada and Batesville.

“He supported the emergence of an entrepreneurial economy,” Sharpe said. “And Oxford is recognized worldwide as one of the hottest places to retire – and I don’t mean the climate.”
Hipp’s tenure also coincided with a huge growth in Oxford’s tourism industry, a 26-fold increase in building permit values and one of the fastest population growth rates in the state.

Sharpe noted that it was the Chamber’s innovation that solved a shortage of hotel rooms for the 2008 Presidential Debate at the University of Mississippi that the region its best-ever international spotlight. First, Chamber members and then the general public were recruited to open their homes to some of the 3,000 media representatives who came from all over the world.

“The result was an overwhelmingly positive response to the Lafayette-Oxford-University community,” Sharpe said.

Hipp was generous with praise for colleagues, his staff, local officials, sharing credit for the changes in the thriving community.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot together,” he said.

Other awardees honored at Tuesday night’s annual banquet were Lolita Gregory, Outstanding Service Award; and Torie Marion, Chamber Ambassador of the Year.

Banquet speaker Richard Wright, president of AdvoCare, urged those present to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit. Having taken the energy, weight-loss, nutrition and sports performance products company from $70 million in annual sales to an expected $800 million this year, he offered three reasons entrepreneurs succeed – learning to get along with people, never giving up and, after getting sufficient to make a decision, taking action.

“If you show up and keep your word, you can probably be successful, as long as you’re nice to people,” he said. “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest opportunity to let people become what they want to become.”

Wright’s wife, Sherry Wright, announced the creation of the AdvoCare Entrepreneur of the Year Award, for which a “Shark Tank”-style startup competition will commence in September and culminate in May 2015. The eventual winner will win office space, legal and accounting services, access to investor networks, publicity, cash and a trophy.

Jon Maynard, new president of the Chamber/EDF, said one of the organizations’ goals is to have Oxford known as an entrepreneurial capital where someone with a great idea and drive “can surround (himself) with creative equals.”

About Errol Castens

I'm a news reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Focusing on Oxford and Lafayette County, I've been a part of the L-O-U community since 1991.