CREATE Foundation experiences unprecedented growth

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Jun. 10—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.

— 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.

dennis.seid@djournal.com