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Released January 29, 2004


LONG BEACH - The work of the newly created Center for Tourism and Economic Development Research (CENTED) at The University of Southern Mississippi is filling a critical need for one of the state's largest industries, and is on its way to becoming a one-of-a-kind resource for tourism organizations and economic developers.

Originally created to be a repository for tourism-related data, CENTED's mission has been expanded to include broader economic development work of the former Gulf South Economic Research Center which was phased out at the end of December. Organizationally, CENTED functions under the auspices of the College of Business and Economic Development (CBED).

The expansion of CENTED's mission will be a huge benefit for not only the Gulf Coast, but the entire state, said CBED dean Dr. Harold Doty. "CENTED now better addresses the needs of the economic development community and those of the burgeoning tourism industry on the Gulf Coast. The center will provide a mechanism to help exploit critical areas of the tourism industry to the state's advantage," said Doty.

The focus on tourism as a major priority by newly appointed Mississippi Development Authority head Leland Speed seems to bode well for the state's industry, said Dr. Tony Henthorne, CENTED director and professor of marketing.

"Tourism really hasn't been paid the attention it deserves despite the money it generates and jobs it creates. The focus has been on the casinos because of the revenue and jobs they've brought into the state. We need to look now at developing the spillover," said Henthorne.

Mississippi tourism/recreation generated $6.4 billion in 2002, up 2.2 percent from $6.3 billion the previous fiscal year. The industry employs nearly 100,000 Mississippians and is the state's second-largest service sector employer. Nationwide, travel and tourism is a $537 billion industry with 7.9 million direct U.S. jobs.

From sport fishing to golf to rural tourism, Henthorne says there is fertile ground for expansion of tourism in Mississippi. "We've become rather stagnant in the field of tourism. There was a big push when the casinos came in, but now we have to move to the next stage. We have to be able to move the state forward, bringing in more people, jobs and money. Tourism is the second-largest service sector employer in the state, and the number of Mississippi citizens employed in the industry is sure to increase," said Henthorne.

For example, Henthorne said Mississippi ought to be a mecca for rural tourism. "Every little town has something unique that sets it apart. We ought to be able to bring these aspects together in a coordinated effort for the state."

In addition to becoming a vocal advocate for the tourism industry, CENTED is working to develop an online database of tourism information at the state, regional, national and international levels, said Henthorne. This information will be useful to commercial developers, economic developers, tourism officials and academic researchers, he said.

CENTED researchers will be working closely with the Center for Community and Economic Development, located on the Hattiesburg campus. Director Mark Goodman welcomes the opportunity to partner on a variety of projects including tourism market studies, retail analysis and tourism impact studies.

"We are excited about the opportunity to work with CENTED. Tourism is a component of economic development so our partnership is a natural one," said Goodman.

For more information about CENTED, contact Henthorne at (228) 214-3248. The office is on the Gulf Park campus at 117 Beach Park Place in Long Beach.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM