About Lester Spell, Jr., D.V.M., Commissioner of Agriculture & Commerce
Lester Spell is a sixth-generation Mississippian whose family has farmed and been in business in the state since the early 1800s.
Growing up, Spell was very active in 4-H. This early interest led him first to Mississippi State for pre-veterinary studies and then to Auburn where he received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 1968. He then served two years as captain in the Army, supervising the inspection of perishable food shipped to Vietnam.
In 1970, Spell returned to Mississippi, beginning his veterinary practice and farming operation. In addition to raising blueberries, sweet corn, and pumpkins, he oversaw the family's timber and wildlife management programs.
In 1975, Spell became the first mayor of Richland, his hometown - a position he held until 1996 when he took office as Commissioner of Agriculture in January 1996. Under his leadership, Richland was incorporated and experienced phenomenal business and industrial growth. His experience and understanding of economic development enabled him to bring in many new businesses and create new jobs for area residents.
In November 1995, Spell was elected as the Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce and was re-elected for a second term in 1999. He was reelected again in 2003 and in 2007. He is now serving his fourth term in office. Spell is a member of the Republican Party and Mississippi’s first Republican Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce.
When Spell took office in January of 1996, the Department's budget was $1.2 million in the hole. Its office and records keeping systems and equipment were outdated. There were few computers in use and the Department still relied on pencils and pads with a filing system of some 300,000 index cards. The vehicles and other equipment were falling apart and repair costs were eating away at the budget. Also, the Department's productivity and morale were at a very low point.
Lester Spell quickly set to work. Tough decisions had to be made. Because of overspending before Spell took office, half the employees had to be furloughed and others laid off. Spell appointed a four-member Transition Team of well-respected, experienced individuals of various backgrounds to assist him in reviewing the Department and modernizing its operation and increasing its effectiveness and efficiency.
As a result of those reorganization efforts, the Department now has 33% fewer employees than when Spell took over. That was accomplished with cross training of employees, eliminating outdated and unnecessary positions, reducing time consuming and unnecessary red tape, privatizing portions of the work, and introducing computer technology. Today, with 33% fewer employees, the Department's measurable work output is 20% higher than when Spell first came into office. This reorganization and increased efficiencies have resulted in a savings to the state of more than $34 million since 1996.
In 1996, he also became the Chairman of Keep Mississippi Beautiful program, a non-profit organization dedicated to making Mississippi a more beautiful state for residents and visitors to enjoy. In its major project, the "Avenue of Magnolias," magnolias are planted at major highway entrances and interchanges in Mississippi. Annually, nearly 900 trees are planted through this program, which is funded by private donations.
In 1999, Spell introduced the “Make Mine Mississippi” program to identify and promote items that are grown or made in our state. Today, there are over 1,000 companies in this program. This is the only program in the state that identifies and promotes Mississippi products.
Spell currently serves as chairman of the Mississippi Fair Commission and the Central Farmers Market Board. He serves on the boards of numerous agricultural and economic development organizations.
Lester Spell is a deacon and member of First Baptist Church in Jackson, where he has served as a Sunday school teacher and as an adult leader for the Boy Scout troop. Spell is a member of Plain Masonic Lodge. Spell has two children, Jason and Katie. Having lost his first wife, Sandra, in 2003, he was remarried to Clara Kennedy of Mendenhall in 2009.
He is past president of the Mississippi Municipal League, Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the Rankin County Chamber of Commerce, and the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association. Spell was selected as Mississippi Veterinarian of the Year in 1996, an award given by the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association.
Mississippi agriculture and forestry earns approximately $6 billion annually in cash receipts, making it the state's largest business.
As Commissioner of Agriculture, Lester Spell believes in agriculture's potential to make a difference for every Mississippian by creating new markets and bringing money and new jobs to the state. "We have to move agriculture forward in the 21st century - to improve life for every Mississippian," he says.
Spell's background in agriculture, his training as a veterinarian, and his record in economic development give him a good perspective for service as Mississippi’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce.