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CREATE Foundation experiences unprecedented growth

TUPELO • The CREATE Foundation is as financially stable as it has ever been, with some $153 million in assets, keeping the state's oldest nonprofit community foundation also its largest.

Twenty-five years ago, the foundation had just under $14 million in assets.

CREATE President Mike Clayborne, presiding over Thursday's annual State of the Region meeting, said in six of the past seven years, more contributions were made to CREATE that exceeded the total that was given in the first 25 years of the organization.

"In six months, we'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of CREATE," he said. "In the first 25 years of CREATE, from 1972 to 1996, we had contributions of $11.6 million total. From 1997 through today in 2021, we've had contributions of $198 million."

Clayborne relayed the information to some 300 attendees at the meeting. Other speakers included Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley.

For his part, Presley spoke about what he calls Northeast Mississippi's broadband "revolution." 

As of Thursday morning, nearly 25,000 home owners statewide have fiber-to-the-home broadband, with most of those centered in Northeast Mississippi.

Hosemann, meanwhile, spoke about the achievements of the state legislature and some of the efforts underway for the next session on how to best invest an influx of money — some $5 billion — provided to the state as part of the American Rescue Plan.

"It's a critical decision for us," Hosemann said. "We don't want this to be one or two years; we want this to one or two generations. So we'll be talking to business leaders on how to spend those funds."

The CREATE meeting brings together representatives from 17 counties in Northeast Mississippi, and each county has a profile produced by the foundation providing and economic and demographic snapshot. An overall report for the region also is published.

Some findings of this year's regional profile:

  • Unemployment in 2020 averaged 7.7%, which was 2.7 percentage points higher than a year earlier.
  • Per capital income rose to $37,208, compared to $34,770 a year ago and $37,124 in 2018. Lafayette County had the highest per capital income at $43,820, followed by Lee County at $42,635 in Warren Central.
  • The dropout rate of high school students has dropped by some 50% since the formation of the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi 25 years ago.
  • CREATE has some 900 total funds – including 262 endowment funds – compared to just 115 in 1996.

Clayborne said the continued growth and success of the CREATE Foundation is wholly up to donors.

"The fees off the endowment funds probably funds about 70% of CREATE's operating budget," he said. "These funds are important because they continue year after year to provide support to important things across our region."

Also at the meeting, the Jack Reed Sr. Northeast Mississippi Community Leadership Award was presented to four men: the late Bobby Martin of Ripley, Sandy Williams of Corinth, Hassell Franklin of Houston and Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo.

Educating Elvises
Young tribute artists learn Elvis moves

TUPELO • Hunter Cole aspires to become an Elvis tribute artist.

The 14-year-old from Cleburne, Texas, currently models himself after the raw, high-energy ‘50s Elvis. But to be a complete tribute artist, he knows he has to add to his repertoire the body movement and stage presence of the Elvis in later decades.

“If I can do his ‘70s and ‘60s moves, that will help me even more,” Cole said.

Cole was one of 11 boys ages 9 through 18 who took part, Thursday morning, in a youth workshop on how to look and perform like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. They had their own tribute artist competition in the afternoon as part of the Tupelo Elvis Festival.

Elvis tribute artists Dean Z, Cote Deonath and Taylor Rodriguez shared their extensive knowledge of Presley moves. They also encouraged the youth to be themselves while honoring Presley.

“You’re all tribute artists because we’re all paying tribute to Elvis through our own lens,” Dean Z said. “Make it you. Put it through your own body and how you perceive it.”

Tim Mack, a Greenwood, Indiana, resident who prefers the ‘60s Elvis style, said the tribute artists made it easy for the budding ETAs to learn.

“They’re so personable,” Mack, 18, said. “They’re not like teachers. They’re more like friends, and they make it fun for you.”

Landon James, a 16-year-old from Lemont, Illinois, who relates to the ‘70s Elvis, said he discovered from the workshop how Presley stood while playing his guitar in the ‘50s. According to Dean Z, Presley would tap his right toe and left heel at the same time while moving the guitar neck in a circular motion.

James, winner of the youth competition, wants to continue growing as a tribute artist. “I’ll definitely apply what I’ve learned today, especially the guitar stance,” he said.

Even though the budding artists want to continue honoring Presley, Dean Z encouraged them not to overlook their education.

“Make sure your schooling is a priority and get good grades,” he said. “That is the most important thing in the world. Elvis is for our fun. This is where we get to have a good time, celebrate his music and make people happy.”

Northeast Mississippi residents assess flood damage as water recedes

TUPELO • After two days of nearly solid rain across the region, the weather dried up Thursday to allow flash flood waters to recede.

Northeast Mississippi officials used the day to survey damages to infrastructure, while a dozen-and-a-half Lee County families began to assess the damage the flooding caused to their homes.

According to the National Weather Service in Memphis, portions of Oxford and Lafayette County received as much as 15 inches or rain from 7 a.m. Monday through 7 a.m. Thursday. Most of Lee County had 6 inches or more rain during the same period.

Lafayette County Emergency Management Agency director Steve Quarles said the heavy rains caused numerous problems Wednesday, including flash floods turning some streets into temporary rivers more than a foot deep.

“We had three streets where roads were washed out or culverts blew out,” Quarles said. “Right now, we only have one house with major flood damage, but as things settle down, more might be reported.”

Quick action from officials may have averted severe damage just north of Oxford. Wednesday afternoon, residents downstream from Tara Estates on County Road 102 were asked to evacuate their homes when a sinkhole started forming in embankment of Lake Tara Dam.

“The fire department and (the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality) helped pump water out of the lake,” Quarles said. “They were able to get it down to a safe level, and we are not worried about it causing any damage.

In Lee County, at least 18 houses in the Saltillo and Guntown areas suffered flood damage. The bulk of the damage was in the flood-plagued Willow Creek subdivision in Saltillo. The neighborhood drains though a small culvert under a railroad track. In heavy rains, the culvert is overloaded and the water backs up, tuning the subdivision into a detention pond. The same streets also flooded in 2019.

“We got an incredible amount of rain in a short period of time,” said Saltillo Mayor Rex Smith. “We opened up the community room at city hall in case any of the displaced families needed a place to stay, but no one took advantage of it.”

The water had receded for the most part by Thursday morning, and city officials were out assessing damage. Smith said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is expected to be in town next week looking at the damage.

“Since this is the second flood event in that area in two years, FEMA might have to change the flood insurance criteria,” said Lee County EMA director Lee Bowdry. “They can’t keep throwing good money after bad.”

Bowdry and his staff took advantage of the drier Thursday to head out to affected areas and begin the damage assessment process. He said road crews are reporting that damages weren’t as widespread or as bad as initially thought.

“After talking to (county road manager Tim Allred), they hope to have most of the roads they had to close opened back up pretty quickly, possible by Friday afternoon,“ he said.

There is more rain in the forecast over the next two days, with possible thunderstorms Friday and Saturday. But after this weekend, sunny (or at least partly cloudy) days are expected to return for all of next week to allow the region to dry out.