Oxford is a Mississippi success story that elicits national praise for its small-town charm and rapid increase in population. It is home to the University of Mississippi and has outpaced other Mississippi towns in growth in recent decades. It’s a place that people want to live, whether they’re graduating university students who hope to stay and work in town, or retirees or professionals returning home.
This growth success story is partly due to the vision of the leaders at the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Foundation, who try to balance growth with quality of life for Oxonians.
Jon Maynard is the new president and CEO for both the Chamber and the EDF. He agreed to answer a few questions from HottyToddy.com this week, when he could find a spare minute, about his hopes for Oxford.
HT: What is your vision for the future of Oxford? Is the town on a good path to meet that vision?
JM: My vision for Oxford is the same as most long-time citizens here. I want to see Oxford grow, but still retain the quality and charm that is, and has been, Oxford. We have a high standard of quality here, and I don’t want to see that changed. Growth is a great thing, but it must be managed and pre-planned or else that growth will be dictated by forces that may or may not respect the values of our community. My favorite phrase in economic development is “Change is exhilarating when it is done by us, but debilitating when it is done to us.” I think that we have the ability in Oxford to create change that reflects our community and will continue to embrace the high standards that we cherish.
Oxford is definitely on a path to meet that vision. My predecessor, Max Hipp, did a tremendous job of growing this community. His coordination of community assets developed an environment that brought 2,500 percent growth in the value of building permits, a 56 percent growth in population in Lafayette County and a continued top Policom ranking. Max did not do this by himself. He had the cooperation and collaboration of the entire community. So, Oxford as a whole is working as a team for positive growth already. My job is to maintain those relationships and to strengthen the team.
HT: Do you want to make any major changes at the Chamber of Commerce?
JM: I have been given an opportunity to build on a very successful program. There are minor changes that will happen over time with the Chamber and Economic Development Foundation, but nothing that anyone would consider drastic. These changes over time will involve increases in our budget funded by more private sector participation in our organization. We want to focus our strategic plans on four areas: budget, membership return on investment, competitiveness and physical growth.
With these budget increases, we expect to be able to accomplish more. We will establish a spending plan that increases our staff in specific roles, allows the EDF to be more competitive on projects and creates a more tightly networked business community. This will also allow us to physically grow our facility and add more space for staff, offices, incubator space, meeting space etc.
HT: How have you spent your first weeks and months on the job?
JM: Most of my time has been spent actually doing the job. We have been working on projects and building collaborative relationships with the entire community. We cannot accomplish our mission if we don’t have the full support of the city, county and university. We have been great partners in the past, and I am working to build the trust in me that Max Hipp has had for more than two decades.
HT: What are your goals with the Chamber and EDF?
JM: Our goals are very simple. We want to grow Oxford without changing Oxford. As far as specific goals, we want to double our budget in three years. This accomplishment alone will allow us to develop our organizations into more competitive and stronger entities. All of this will be done with attention to the return on investment from our membership, and making our community more competitive for economic development.
HT: What kind of national reputation does Oxford have, in terms of its business climate?
JM: Oxford has a reputation for being tough to work with, however it is not necessarily a bad thing. Oxford has high community values and high expectations from the business community. This can be managed so that these high expectations can be met in a fashion that is open and friendly. It may be tough, but as long as it is fair and the outcome maintains the quality that we expect in our community, then business will continue to thrive here.
HT: In what area or areas could Oxford stand improvement?
JM: In short, roads. Oxford has seen 22 percent growth in every census since 1990. That is a lot of new people in our community and without the roads infrastructure to support it, we will never be ahead of the growth. I grew up in Orlando, Fla. Their roads infrastructure was never able to keep up with the pace of growth in that city. Consequently, I feel that the traffic in Orlando is worse than L.A. or Dallas. Oxford can get ahead of that curve by a thoughtful, long-term process of developing the roads network to accommodate strategic growth.
HT: Where were you before coming to Oxford? Could you compare Oxford to your previous community? Any similarities? Why were you interested in joining the Oxford Chamber?
JM: Before I moved to Oxford I was in Starkville, Miss., running the Greater Starkville Development Partnership and working for Gulf States Manufacturers. Max Hipp has been a good friend since I moved to Mississippi from Louisiana. When the opportunity came along to work with Max, and then eventually replace him and carry on his 25-year legacy, I eagerly jumped at it. It seemed that everything lined up just right. I got a year of training from Max, and I am well prepared to fill this office. Max Hipp and Christy Knapp are still very close friends and trusted advisors. I call upon their experience here quite often.
My background is very diverse, having run my own business, worked in a family business, worked in a corporate bank and in manufacturing. For more than 15 years I accumulated this diverse work experience. During that time I was a volunteer for the local Chamber of Commerce. My heart was there, my mind was there. When I discovered that they actually paid people to do that line of work, I took a job as an economic developer and have been quite happy ever since.
HT: What do you hope to see in place after you’ve been on the job here for five years?
JM: I hope that in five years we will see an increased and very visible coordination of our community team. The city, county, university and the business community should be seen as all working as one for the benefit of our regional community. If we can be seen as the leaders in community management, then Oxford will continue to be the special place that it is. Oxford already has a reputation for working well together and for being successful. I think we can do even better.
HT: How do you balance your two roles as CEO and president of both the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation and the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber?
JM: The roles of the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation are purely complimentary. Our mission for both organizations is to strengthen our economic viability. The Chamber of Commerce can be thought of as a tactical organization in that mission. The Chamber deals with the current business climate and develops programs that develop better business networking, local shopping encouragement and issues that affect the business community. The EDF works to accomplish the strategic portion of our mission.
The EDF is looking 10, 20, 50 years down the road to develop physical infrastructure, large-scale business recruitment, existing business growth, workforce development and future economy plans based on trends that are in the marketplace. These organizations cannot exist without the other. Coordinated management of the Chamber and the EDF makes the work done by each group possible.
– Gretchen Stone is HottyToddy.com associate editor. You can contact Gretchen about this profile at Gretchen.Stone@HottyToddy.com.
Q&A with Chamber President Jon Maynard
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