Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Regionalism, Cooperation

One of biggest fans of BoomtownUSA is Robert Baker. He continues to buy books, distributing them to politicians and influential people in small towns. Several months ago he suggested to me that I write a Boomtown book for each state, with examples of towns that are “gettin’ it done” around the country. At the time I thought that it would be difficult to do and put it on the back burner.

I’m now giving his idea more thought after spending some time researching and putting together a presentation for the North Mississippi Industrial Development Authority, an organization comprised of electrical power distributors serving counties in northeast MS. The group is closely tied in with TVA, which I talked about on Friday. It covers 33 counties or about 1/3 of the land area in the state.

In my research, I found some wonderful examples of some very rural, small counties that were beginning to work together, resulting in some great new projects and jobs. Itawamba County (population 23,532) went from having only 27 acres of industrial land to putting together a 140 industrial park and landing Toyota Boshoku (500 jobs—a 33% increase in manufacturing jobs) within the past six months. Neshoba County (population 30,125) has developed a new $1 million + entrepreneurship incubator. And, Calhoun County (population 14,657) got the four small towns in its county to band together to start their first ever ED effort in the past three months.

The Golden Triangle (Columbus, Starkville and West Point) is another cooperative effort that built a wonderful regional airport, started an industrial park and is cooperating on a number of other new projects. My blog the last two months has been filled with examples of the $3 billion + in investments in that area.

The PUL Alliance (Pontotoc, Union and Lee Counties) with a combined population of 140,000 in the three counties got together to develop a mega-site composed of 22 different parcels of land (and owners) that landed the Toyota assembly plant that is being built.

A spirit of cooperation started in north MS when the newly formed Community Development Foundation (CDF) lured Morris Futorian to town to begin manufacturing furniture in northern MS. When a suitable location couldn’t be found in Tupelo, the local CDF agreed to help them do the project in the neighboring county of Lee, in the town of New Albany. From that single factory somewhere from 25 to 40 (I heard both numbers) furniture companies evolved, turning Tupelo into the Furniture Capital of the South. One of those companies, Furniture Brands International, the largest in the world, was started and still run by Mickey Holliman who worked as a laborer and foreman in Futorian’s first factory.

Another favorite town, Oxford, MS, was my example of branding in my talk. From having one of the nicest downtowns I’ve seen to establishing themselves as a retirement destination Oxford is one of the best examples of a unique “sense of place” that I’ve found.

On second thought I think that there is enough material to do a whole book on Northern MS. Imagine what I could do if I included the entire state and great stories like the reinvention of the Gulf Coast (post Katrina), Greenwood, Ruleville, Drew, Vicksburg, Laurel and others!

1 comment:

DJ said...

Jack: I've been a big fan of yours for some time, reading your blogs and thinking about all the entrepreneurial initiatives you are highlighting and engendering around the country. This is certainly very important work and it is great to have a person who truly cares about these communities championing these efforts. With regard to the concept of writing a Boom Town book on the entrepreneurialism in each state or region, I'd like to reinforce the idea, but with a bit of a twist. Wikipedia has demonstrated the incredible power of enabling millions of people to collaborate across time and geographic distance for the common goal of documenting specific areas of knowledge or scientific inquiry. Perhaps a similar web-based approach that encourages entrepreneurs to work together in defining their common vision, goals, plans for economic development, progress and lessons learned at the state and regional level would serve multiple purposes -- not the least of which could be a series of publications on initiatives and their respective lessons learned. We may have some people in the SW Pa area who would be interested in serving as a testbed for such an effort if you find it of interest. Please keep up the tremendous work you are doing for entrepeneurs and small businesses in urban USA. Whether people realize it or not, we all benefit from what you are doing.