Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bill Crawford: The Tupelo Story

Do you know the "Tupelo Story," the uplifting chronicle of Tupelo's self-transformation from "a hardscrabble hamlet" (Aspen Institute) to a prosperous small city and "national model for homegrown development" (William Winter)?
 
Vaughn Grisham, Jr., built a career around telling the Tupelo Story and was the founding director of the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at Ole Miss. His book, "Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community" tells the story as does his monograph with Rob Gurwitt, "Hand in Hand: Community and Economic Development in Tupelo," a case study published by the Aspen Institute.

In the Forward to Grisham's book, former Governor William Winter calls Tupelo "a place where people have learned not to dismiss their own personal self-interest, but to equate it with the interest of their community."
 
While Daily Journal publisher George McLean was the enlightened self-interest guru and unrelenting catalyst behind Tupelo's transformation, the Tupelo Story is really a multi-generational story of strong and progressive business leadership, inclusive community engagement, well-researched and strategic decisions, and institutionalized civic processes.
 
I was reminded of the story by a Daily Journal editorial last week entitled, "Continued community success depends on training next generation." It told of the Tupelo Mayor's Youth Council leadership program teaching youth the Tupelo Story and inspiring them to "continue the history of engaged and dedicated leadership our community has benefitted from for the last 75 years."     
 
You see, what Tupelo has developed is a unifying "community culture" (Grisham) that intentionally renews itself, edifies its business and community leaders, and, thereby, sustains the city's focus on helping both its people and its businesses do better.
 
In looking to answer why Mississippi persistently ranks at the bottom on so many indicators, you need look no further than to our lack of a vibrant, unifying state culture. Unlike Tupelo, we have been unable to bridge divisions rooted in race, provincialism, self-interest, and ideology. Thus, instead of discourse leading to success and distinction, we get unending squabbles that foster distress, disappointment, dysfunction, distrust, and discombobulation.
 
Nothing is more symptomatic of this condition than the rank partisanship in our state Legislature. Indeed, its leaders tout partisanship and offer no proposals to bridge divisions and develop a unifying culture.
 
Tupelo ensconced its forward-looking business leadership in its Community Development Foundation (CDF). Not satisfied with the chamber of commerce model, McLean designed the CDF to serve the full community along with business interests.
 
The only organization to come close to the CDF at the state level has been the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC). While primarily business focused, the MEC, like the CDF, has championed education, health care, and other quality of life initiatives. But despite ambitious efforts like Blueprint Mississippi, the MEC has been unable to forge sufficient consensus to bridge the state's many divisions. Lately, MEC influence has dwindled as that of anti-progressive out-of-state special interest groups has surged.
 
It is human nature to put self-interest first. Once George McLean convinced Tupelo business leaders that balancing self-interest with community interests would be better for all, the city and region prospered. Tupelo has carefully nurtured this approach through future generations of business and community leadership.
 
How far off the bottom might Mississippi be if this approach had reached statewide?
 
 
Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Isn't that the job of MDA? The same agency that was tared and feathered by Lowndes county?

Anonymous said...

One reason for Tupelo's continued prosperity is its commitment to public education. Tupelo was one of the few Mississippi cities not to create a segregationist academy, or private school, when desegregation became law. In the late 1980s, early in my career, I worked in Tupelo for a few years. However, I found the town to be a bit puritan for my tastes. At that time, the liquor laws there were byzantine.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:58 you are in large part correct about Tupelo’s commitment to maintaining their public school system being a secret to their success. There are a handful of North MS towns that are similar - Corinth, Pontotoc, New Albany, Oxford, and all of DeSoto Co. However, for the other towns, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. JA and Prep parents aren’t going to start sending their kids back to JPS. Neither are Washington School or Trinity parents. We’ll have to fix those towns another way.

Anonymous said...

10:10 am No agency or leader can succeed when, for reasons of self-interest or political one-upmanship, they are sabotaged at every turn.

Suggestions of policy or plans that have been successful elsewhere are seen as a criticism of " how we do things here". The assumption is made that those sharing other approaches " think they are better than us".

Or else, despite continued failure, the unwillingness to admit the " way things have been" has not worked prevails.

Or worse, there is a willingness to have the whole state fail rather than to have any section or race or party other than one's own succeed even marginally away from the status quo.

When we do catch up to something , it's 20 years too late and the side that had powerfully been in opposition has adopted the very thing they opposed as if it had been their " new idea".






Anonymous said...

Or worse, there is a willingness to have the whole state fail rather than to have any section or race or party other than one's own succeed even marginally away from the status quo.

Are there any horses left that you haven't already beaten to a dead pulp?

Anonymous said...

Years ago I went to a basketball game where Tupelo high was playing West Point in West Point. I was with some recent Tupelo alumni so we apsar in the visiting side. The game was a blowout. Tupelo was beating them by 25 or so with plenty of time.

West Point has a player that was doing well. I commented “nice shot” when he made a. Good one.

The hatred from the Tupelo crowd was overwhelming as dagger eyes were sent my way. Encourage Pd by the passion I generated, I was emboldened to continue to comment on the play of the WP players.

While I don’t disagree Tupelo is a nice place, the people there think more highly of themselves than they ought. It’s a dump.

Anonymous said...

state is in bad shape when Tupelo is your beacon of prosperity

Anonymous said...

Tupelo Story is old history and all that good stuff is about gone.

Anonymous said...

2:55 pm The " horse" in your analogy is publicly criticizing the efforts and successes of Mississippi communities than your own or simply just finding something negative to say about your fellow Mississippians.
3:41pm,4:34 pm, and 3:13 pm are proof the " horse" is not " dead".
We should all be publicly promoting our the good things about Mississippi and working together to be the best we can be.
So, no, I won't stop until the dysfunctional behavior stops.

Anonymous said...

@ 4:34 is right. Tupelo's schools dropped down to a C and they have tried to come up with government gimmicks (free college tuition) to get families to move back into town from the county.

Anonymous said...

Tupelo was in great shape until the Tupelo Christian Preparatory School came along in the late 1980's. As mentioned earlier, Tupelo survived the rush of academy introductions of the integration era with its public schools intact ,and so grew into a successful city with a stellar school system. When TCPS was introduced, all of the wealthier families began pulling their children out of public school and with them went their money, influence, and resources. Unfortunately the public school has been going down ever since.

Plain ol' Catfish said...

Bill Crawford made an EXCELLENT point when he said the following:

"In looking to answer why Mississippi persistently ranks at the bottom on so many indicators, you need to look no further than to our lack of a vibrant, unifying state culture."

When you look at other states, they embrace their major metropolitans areas. In Mississippi, they hate their own Capital.

When you look at others states, there's usually something people across demographics - racial, social, educational, economic - that people will embrace. In Mississippi - there's a stupid flag that divides more than ever.

I wasn't born in Mississippi, but I have lived here for a long time so you can say this is my adoptive home. But it's sad when people from here, can't wait to leave when the first opportunity approaches them. The legislature is tone deaf to the citizens and is not interested in propelling the state to be ahead in any regard.

In my heart of hearts, I really do believe we all want to see this state do well and be prosperous - I think "who is prosperous" is where the problem begins?

Good article by Bill Crawford

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