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Upbuilding People and Places Sonny's Way

The mission of The Montgomery Institute (TMI) is to upbuild people and places in East Mississippi and West Alabama…Sonny’s way. That means TMI pursues innovative upbuilding activities for people and places in the region, guided by the leadership legacy of our namesake, the late Congressman G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery. More...

TMI was organized as a Mississippi non-profit corporation domiciled in Meridian, Mississippi, on September 20, 2000.  It received a final IRS determination letter as a 501(c)(3) public charity on May 31, 2006. On November 16, 2009, TMI received a certificate of authority to transact business in Alabama and opened an office in Monroeville, AL. TMI maintains annual registration with the Mississippi Secretary of State as a charitable organization. TMI’s diverse board includes individuals from around the region: C.D. Smith – Chairman, Meridian, MS; J. L. White – Secretary/Treasurer, DeKalb, MS; Fred Blackledge, Quitman, MS; Shanda Lewis, Meridian, MS; Joseph Brown, Tuscaloosa, AL; Steven Kilgore, Philadelphia, MS; Bill Crawford – President, Meridian, MS.

East Mississippi – West Alabama Service Area
img4The bi-state region TMI serves expands and contracts as resources and program opportunities present themselves. In 2000, TMI started with an eight county region, six in Mississippi and two in Alabama. By 2003, the region served had grown to 16 counties, 10 in Mississippi and six in Alabama. Successfully landing a WIRED grant in 2006 expanded the region served to 37 counties, 19 in Mississippi and 18 in Alabama. Since the WIRED grant concluded in 2010, the region served by TMI has returned to 16 counties.


The Riley Foundation in Meridian, MS, provided start-up funds for TMI. The foundation contributed $455,000 to fund start-up operations and another $1 million to create an endowment. The Phil Hardin Foundation in Meridian, MS, provided $82,000 for start-up operations and another $300,000 for the endowment. Local supporters contributed $135,000 to the endowment. Earnings from the endowment provide an average of $40,000 per year in support for TMI operations. Other operations support comes from program management fees and contracts with public agencies. TMI’s latest five-year average rate for managing programs is 8.6%.

Amendment to Articles of Incorporation

Articles of Incorporation


Board of Directors

Tax Exempt Status

Certificate of Charity Registration

Certificate of Authority to Transact Business in Alabama

Sonny's Way

sonnyFrom humble beginnings in Meridian, Mississippi, Sonny climbed to heights of political and personal success, yet always held tight to the principles he treasured – faith, fellowship, persistence, and patriotism. In so doing he earned the respect and admiration of all with whom he came into contact.  Sonny’s leadership legacy guides our work in the guise of humble and faithful service, a commitment to lasting relationships, never quitting on worthwhile endeavors, and love for our country, our communities and our people. More...

Faith was the backbone of all Sonny believed, and manifested itself in his love for people. His humble service and gentle demeanor expressed his beliefs more eloquently than a loud voice.

Sonny’s uncanny ability to relate to folks from all walks of life served to connect him on a deep level with those he met. His ability to establish and maintain lifelong friendships was legendary.

When Sonny believed in something he always saw it as worth the fight. He didn’t know the meaning of the word quit or give up. Whatever it took, however long it took, until he got the job done…that was Sonny’s way.

Known to colleagues as Mr. Veteran or Mr. National Guard, Sonny’s love for his country was without equal. During his 30 years in Congress Sonny devoted much of his energy to ensuring that those who fight for our country have every opportunity to succeed in life.

When we received permission from Sonny to name the Institute after him, TMI committed to two things. First, we would pursue our program of work “guided by the leadership legacy of G.V. ‘Sonny’ Montgomery.” Second, we would preserve and promote Sonny’s legacy. TMI has consistently strived to live up to these commitments and will continue to do so. Click here for more on Sonny and his legacy.

Innovation and Resources

rpbTMI pursues innovation and resources to upbuild people and places in East Mississippi and West Alabama. Twice – in 2003 and 2010 – the 13-state Southern Growth Policies Board presented TMI its “Innovator Award” in recognition of innovative approaches to leadership development and place building. With our partners, TMI has attracted over $30 million in resources to support innovative projects in the region. Most of these funds have gone to other institutions to provide educational, workforce, entrepreneurial, and leadership services to individuals.   More...


This note from Dr. Raj Shaunak, EMCC Vice President for Workforce and Community Services, illustrates TMI’s approach to pursuing innovation and resources to regional partners. “Our successful manufacturing training programs that have helped us land major projects like PACCAR and, now, Yokohama, grew out of the WIRED grant and Governor Haley Barbour’s follow-up grant to TMI. What began as an exemplary pre-hire training program for advanced manufacturers is now the basis for training highly-skilled, highly-paid electro-mechanical and Mechatronics technicians for sophisticated manufacturers. Thanks to Governor Barbour for his visionary commitment to innovation in workforce development and to The Montgomery Institute for sustaining this beneficial multi-college program.”

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear presented TMI President Bill Crawford and Chairman C. D. Smith with the 2010 Innovator Award. Ted Abernathy, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board (SGPB), said the Institute’s innovative “Rural Place Building” program “was chosen from a strong pool of nominees in the Southern region as an outstanding initiative that helped communities recover from the economic downturn.”  Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said “The Montgomery Institute’s important work to enhance the economic vitality of the West Alabama-East Mississippi region is exemplary.”

img0040Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove presented TMI President Bill Crawford with the 2003 Innovator Award for The Montgomery Institute’s innovative work in leadership development. The Governor noted TMI’s work to reconcile conflict and diminish cultural, racial and regional tensions by building bridges through dialogue and collaboration and by establishing trust and respect among the citizens and organizations of the region.


ArchieBill Funding for TMI programs comes from federal, state and local governments; philanthropic organizations; businesses; and private citizens. Major grants awarded include: Riley Foundation start-up, program, and endowment awards totaling $1.67 million; Phil Hardin Foundation start-up, program, and endowment grants totaling $608,800; U.S. Department of Labor competitive grants – a $15 million Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, a $4.5 million ARRA Building Health Care Ladder Opportunities for Unemployed and Dislocated Workers in East Central Mississippi grant, a $2.7 million TAACCCT Golden Triangle Modern Manufacturing Project with East Mississippi Community College, and a $2.5 million TAACCCT Winston County Manufacturing Recovery Project with East Central Community College; State of Mississippi grants: $706,555 Mississippi Entrepreneur Training Program WIA and ARRA grants from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, $627,000 Mississippi Entrepreneur Alliance CDBG grants from the Mississippi Development Authority; and a Walmart Foundation grant of $400,000 through its America Works Initiative matched with $155,000 from state WIA funds and $50,000 from the National Center for Rural Community Colleges at Mississippi State University.
Archie McDonnell, Jr., left, President of Citizens National Bank, presents $12,500 award to TMI President Bill Crawford.

Most Current Tax Return


Most Current Audit

Certificate of Registration

Board of Directors


wkfcsolSince its inception in 2000, TMI and partners have undertaken innovative projects in leadership development, educational improvement, workforce development, entrepreneurship, rural place building, research and information dissemination, and regional cooperation. The Aspen Institute studied “effective rural workforce partnerships” for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. Aspen described TMI’s work as “opportunistic.” We call it “adaptive.” TMI adapts to available opportunities, resources, and area needs, but always within the guidance set forth in our creation documents and mission statement. As a small rural institute with limited funding, this “adaptive” approach is the only practical approach for TMI to sustain our program of work. More... cl

Region Building
TMI called upon two proven regional leaders to help develop TMI’s approach to region building. Dr. Malcolm Portera, then president of Mississippi State University, and Mr. Dwight Evans, then president of Mississippi Power Company, worked with founding president Bill Crawford and the Board of Directors to craft the following programmatic areas: 1) leadership development; 2) regional cooperation; 3) regional self-perception and self-examination; 4) research and exposure to new ways/ideas; 5) identification of the bigger issues important to the future; 6) build consensus – finding the common ground that regional leaders can agree upon, and create a “booster spirit” for the region; and 7) act as a change agent for the region. TMI continues to follow these original guidelines.

TMI’s vision for regional economic development was crafted as part of the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative.  Regional leaders adopted the approach presented by Dr. Mark Drabenstott, director of the RUPRI Center for Regional Competitiveness Center. “You’re in a global economic race…and ready or not you’re in it!” said Drabenstott.  In this race, “standing still is not an option.”   To win the race, he said regions must 1) build on its assets and strengths, 2) build critical mass, and 3) build competitive advantages.

Rural Place Building

To develop its approach to place building within the region, TMI looked to the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University since all communities in the West Alabama-East Mississippi (WAEM) region served by TMI qualify as rural. SRDC director, Dr. Lionel Beaulieu, pointed to leadership, networking, coaching, resource gathering, and using data to drive strategy development as keys to rural community development.  With this guidance, TMI began formulating its award-winning rural place building approach for the WAEM region:

“Who builds and maintains great rural places, and how do they do it? There are builders who see opportunities and seize them. We call them entrepreneurs. There are builders who manage already built good things and keep them viable and ever renewed.  We call them stewards. There are entrepreneurs and stewards who not only build and maintain for themselves and their organizations, but, with great passion for place, also build for their communities.  We call them place builders.” 

Current Programs and Partnerships
Meridian Freedom Project
img08The Meridian Freedom Project (MFP) is a year-round after-school program for middle school and high school students. The program seeks to build a corps of academically capable, socially conscious and mentally disciplined young leaders in the Meridian area. MFP is a sponsored program of Meridian Community College in partnership with The Montgomery Institute and the Freedom Project Network. The Phil Hardin Foundation provided resources and leadership to start-up the project. Anna Stephenson, a Teach for America veteran, is the project director. For more information click here.
WAEM Mayors Network
The West Alabama – East Mississippi (WAEM) Mayors Network is a key component of TMI’s Rural Place Building initiative. Each quarter, mayors from across the bi-state region gather to discuss issues of common interest and hear presentations from speakers of their choice. The mayors also hosted a bi-state Mayors Summit in 2012 and helped support Creative Strategies for Economic Development forums in Demopolis, AL in 2013, and Meridian, MS in 2014. Current funding for the network is provided by Mississippi Power Company.
Mayors Ben Smith and Tom Tartt greet Alabama Governor Robert Bentley at the 2012 Mayors Summit held in Meridian, MS.

WAEM Alliance
allianceA facet of the 2006-2010 West Alabama-East Mississippi (WAEM) Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) initiative was the creation of a regional framework for workforce development led by area community colleges and coordinated by TMI. Two key goals of the regional framework were development of regional credentials based on authentic assessment of technical skills and anytime/anywhere access to online technical skills training. A subsequent Walmart Foundation America Works Initiative grant further developed this approach. Today, TMI continues to champion regional approaches to economic and workforce development, helps colleges pursue innovation in workforce training, and provides colleges access to the Amatrol e-Learning System.

  • Golden Triangle Modern Manufacturing Project
    img16In 2013, TMI provided strategic planning and grant writing services to WAEM Alliance partner East Mississippi Community College. This led to EMCC applying for a competitive U.S. Department of Labor Round 3 TAACCCT Grant. A key component of the proposed project was to embed regional and national skill credentials in manufacturing training programs. When that $2.7 million grant was awarded, EMCC selected TMI to serve as its program manager. In this role TMI has developed project monitoring tools, works with staff to keep the project on task, and provides technical writing, report writing, and research services.
  • Winston County Manufacturing Recovery Project
    In 2014, TMI provided strategic planning and grant writing services to WAEM Alliance partner East Central Community College. This led to ECCC applying for a competitive U.S. Department of Labor Round 4 TAACCCT Grant. Key components of the proposed project were to offer manufacturing training programs that include regional and national skill credentials and anytime/anywhere access to online technical training. When that $2.5 million grant was awarded, ECCC selected TMI to serve as its program manager. In this role TMI provides project monitoring tools, works with staff to keep the project on task, and provides technical writing, report writing, and research services.

  • Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Alliance
    img22Dr. John Johnson, retired president of Alabama Southern Community College, serves as director of TMI’s Alabama office. TMI has allied with the Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Alliance to allow Dr. Johnson to serve as its executive director. Coastal Gateway serves Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia and Monroe Counties in TMI’s West Alabama region. Dr. Johnson also provides leadership and planning services to the Monroe/Monroeville Economic Development Authority.
  • Mississippi Entrepreneur Alliance (MyBiz)
    new mybizam logo.jpgIn April 2005, the Mississippi Entrepreneur Alliance (MEA) was formed by Mississippi community and junior colleges, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Small Business Administration, and TMI. Its mission was to energize and grow Mississippi’s entrepreneurial potential, especially in rural areas. TMI’s role has been to champion and facilitate entrepreneur programs for partners through multiple grants (WIRED, ARRA, WIA). TMI also sponsored a multi-agency workgroup, encouraged by Governor Haley Barbour, that formulated a set of policy recommendations to enhance and better coordinate entrepreneurship and small business development in Mississippi. In accordance with those recommendations, TMI transferred  leadership to the Mississippi Development Authority’s new Entrepreneur Center (http://www.msenetworks.org/). TMI continues to champion regional entrepreneur activities, operate a regional entrepreneur website (MyBiz.AM) and provide MDA access to U.S. Sourcelink’s “Resource Navigator.”  

    Arts, Education, and Entrepreneurship

    The AT&T Foundation provided funds for TMI’s Educating Artists and Entrepreneurs to Build Creative Economies in Rural Areas initiative. This program provides roster artist education to children in early childhood development programs, particularly Head Start; provides community-based programs to educate artists, artisans, writers, performers, etc., on how to start and grow small businesses, with a special emphasis on women, minorities and youth; and built a regional network of arts and culture organizations to promote integration of arts and culture into classroom teaching and development of the “creative economy” across the region. Richelle Putnam is a certified teaching artist and member of the Teaching Artist Roster with the Mississippi Arts Commission delivers the early childhood program and coordinates the workshops, arts and culture organization network, and youth events.
    C.D. Smith, second from right, presents AT&T donation to TMI's Richelle Putnam accompanied by Mayor James Young, Mayor Mike Grayson, Kirk Thompson, and Allison Winstead from the Mississippi Arts Commission.

    Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalition for Kemper, Neshoba, and Noxubee Counties
    The Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalitions are grassroots groups covering all 82 img20Mississippi counties. The Coalitions work to reduce tobacco-related disease and death by educating youth about the dangers of tobacco, encouraging communities to implement smokefree ordinances and promoting tobacco cessation services. The Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalition for Kemper, Neshoba, and Noxubee Counties is funded by a grant from the Mississippi State Department of health. Beverly Knox is the program coordinator.

    Leadership Kemperimg18
    Leadership Kemper is an emerging community-based leadership program for citizens of Kemper County, Mississippi. The Kemper County Economic Development Authority asked TMI to help inform program leaders about program structure and content and to demonstrate use of content at training sessions. TMI also provided the program with a library of leadership development tools. The key tools employed were the Visionary Community Stool, the Building Blocks of Community Knowledge, the Cycle of Prosperity, and Team Tools That Work. TMI also worked with the program to help attract external funding.



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