Our research for BoomtownUSA has shown us some regions and towns that appear to have special potential. One of the areas that continued to pop up in our research was northern MS. When Toyota announced that they were going to build a major new assembly plant in Tupelo, MS our Todd Thoman put the area around Tupelo on a high priority. His research, work with TVA (the best utility company ED group we’ve run across) and miles on the road resulted in us buying three manufacturing buildings in Ripley, MS (population 5,478) that were built by BenchCraft to make upholstered furniture. I made my first visit to Ripley last week for a ribbon cutting and tour.
BenchCraft was a locally founded business that started in 1976. The five owners made a small fortune but sold out to a company that subsequently sold it to another. Employment peaked in the early 80s at 2,100 employees, definitely making it the largest employer in a county of 21,160. By 1995 it fell to 1,500 and was down to 1,100 last year but has fallen to only 450 now. BenchCraft is suffering and the town/county has suffered with it. And, we hope to help be one of the catalysts that help the area to recover.
The county has a very strong manufacturing base with 39.5% of the jobs in that sector (67th highest percentage in the USA!). One of the reasons why Toyota picked nearby Tupelo was the manufacturing tradition in the region and Ripley’s base should make our job much easier.
When you have a major company like BenchCraft downsizing, it can be a big negative for the town. Some people will sit around and talk about the “good old days” but what is needed is to figure out a way to use old buildings like the ones we bought as a lure to bring in the next BenchCraft. That is what we hope to do and my conversations with many local citizens convinced me that we made a great decision in choosing Ripley.
And, if you need some space, we’ve got some for lease in a great MS town!