The 1980’s were a decade of national exposure for the Community Development Foundation. A Wall Street Journal article sited Tupelo among the “smaller cities that rank as the best in attracting new business.” Hundreds of thousands of quality furniture pieces were being produced making Tupelo/Lee County the upholstered furniture capital of the world.
In 1982, CDF, in partnership with Itawamba Community College (ICC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), opened the Tupelo National Model for Technical Development at the Vocational High School. This program, an outgrowth of a cooperative community effort to improve and coordinate career training and development in the region, offered courses in lasers, robotics, tool and die making, numerical control, office occupations, and data processing. The National Model was one of several programs that garnered national attention for CDF and led to a partnership between CDF, ICC, TVA, and IBM in 1986 to establish an innovative program to teach adults how to read. The Principals in the Alphabet Literacy System (PALS) laboratory was housed on ICC’s Tupelo campus.
Also in 1986, CDF was named by Site Selection Magazine as one of the nation’s Top Ten Leading Industrial Development Agencies. More than 5,000 organizations participated in the survey. In the same year, Lee County became number one in the state for manufacturing growth and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was completed.
The Tupelo Furniture Market was born in 1987 in the CDF boardroom. The first show was held at the Ramada Inn and in the old Woolco Building in the Downtown Mall. Governor Bill Allain officially declared that Mississippi was “the new furniture capital of America,” following the first successful Furniture Market in Tupelo.
1987 also brought the creation of the AHEAD program. CDF spearheaded the “Highway Day State Rally” in Jackson, MS, with over 1,100 attending to support the passing of the program. That year the State Legislature would pass the 1987 4-Lane Highway Program, enabling motorists to reach Tupelo/Lee County by four-lane highway from every direction.
In 1988, a water crisis for Tupelo/Lee County was at the forefront of the minds of the county’s citizenry. CDF prepared a program, “ Tupelo/Lee County Water Crisis: More Than a Local Problem,” in accordance with legislative requests for funding to provide water from the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Tupelo would accept its first water from the Tennessee-Tombigbee in 1991.
Tupelo was again named an “All America City” in 1989. A thriving decade for the region, the 1980’s brought such industries to Tupelo/Lee County as Columbian Rope, Westwood Industries, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Hunter Douglas, Wey Valve, and Bauhaus.