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Released July 1, 2003


HATTIESBURG - University of Southern Mississippi officials announced today a partnership with award-winning nanotechnology company Hybrid Plastics, which is relocating from California to Hattiesburg in a move to expand its research and manufacturing capabilities.

Under the agreement, Hybrid Plastics will establish a 1,500-square-foot laboratory within Southern Miss's Shelby Freland Thames Polymer Science Building, allowing both parties to collaborate in the research, development and commercialization of POSS® polymers and derivative nanocomposites. The parties also expect to establish a Nanotechnology Center of Excellence at Southern Miss that will focus on applying nanotechnology to industry and government needs by improving agricultural products, cosmetics, electronic polymers, coatings, paints and composites.

"By combining the technology of both parties, Southern Miss and Hybrid Plastics will enjoy a strong competitive edge in their ability to secure funding from grant sources such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense," said Southern Miss President Dr. Shelby Thames. "Obviously, this partnership is mutually advantageous, but there is a greater benefit to the community at large - from our own graduates, to the city of Hattiesburg, and to the multiple industries that will be affected by this move."

Additionally, the Area Development Partnership (ADP) and the Forrest County Industrial Park Commission, funded in part by the city of Hattiesburg, are supporting the construction of a 26,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at the Hattiesburg/Forrest County Industrial Park. The facility will be built with money borrowed from the Mississippi Development Authority and then leased back to the company. When completed, it will allow Hybrid Plastics to manufacture and provide technical support for its award-winning POSS® Nanostructured® materials. Based on silicon-derived building blocks, these materials represent a revolutionary new nanotechnology that improves the thermal and mechanical properties of traditional polymers. Producing no odor or air pollution, they are biocompatible, recyclable, nonflammable and competitively priced with traditional polymer feedstocks.

Carl Hagstrom, chief operating officer of Hybrid Plastics, said his company's desire to move to Hattiesburg was threefold. "We wanted to affiliate with one of the top 10 polymer science programs in the country," Hagstrom said of Southern Miss' internationally renowned School of Polymers and High Performance Materials.

"Second, we wanted the ability to build a pilot plant where we could scale up R&D samples to true manufacturing quantities. To have this kind of facility located where we are doing our research is ideal. Finally, Mississippi is a business-friendly state, and we have all the amenities in Hattiesburg that we can get anywhere else in the country," he said.

Hybrid Plastics currently employs about a dozen scientists. However, once its manufacturing facility is completed, the company's economic forecast suggests it could create as many as 25 new jobs by 2006, said Gray Swoope, president of the ADP, which helped negotiate the relocation to Hattiesburg. These newly created positions would be "highly skilled, next-generation jobs," Swoope said.

"This is so different from anything we've ever done," Swoope said. "Nine Ph.D.s are moving in, with their spouses, so it has a huge economic impact immediately just based on that. Not to mention the research dollars that will be coming in to Southern Miss because of this company."

The company's move is also the first step toward the university's goal of luring high-tech companies to its proposed "innovation and commercialization park," launched jointly with the ADP and funded in part by a $2 million grant secured recently by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. Once completed, the park - to be built on part of the 500 acres owned by the university near Classic Drive - would house a variety of research-intensive projects with commercial viability.

"Southern Miss is a global leader in many fields of research, and we must use this leadership position to attract high-paying employers, such as Hybrid, to our region," said Dr. Ken Malone, chair of the Department of Economic Development at Southern Miss.

A polymer scientist by training, Malone praised the company's commitment to the area and said it could result in polymer science graduates from Southern Miss finding jobs here in Mississippi. With a dearth of high-tech opportunities in the polymer profession in this state, many graduates from Southern Miss must go far and wide to find employment, something Hagstrom witnessed firsthand on a recent trip to San Francisco.

"I ran into a nurse from Hattiesburg," Hagstrom said, recalling an incident earlier this year. "When I asked her what she was doing in Northern California, she said her husband was a Ph.D. graduate in polymer science from Southern Miss who couldn't find a job locally. With our move to Mississippi, we're hoping to help change that."

Founded by Dr. Joseph Lichtenhan, Hybrid Plastics is a spin-off from the U.S. Air Force Research Labs. Using a new chemical feedstock based on Polyhedral Oligomeric Silsesquioxane (POSS®) molecules, Hybrid Plastics provides a variety of property enhancements to existing resin systems. These POSS® molecules are hybrid organic-inorganic nanostructures averaging 1.5 nanometers - or one-billionth of a meter. POSS® nanomaterials can be used both as direct replacements for conventional plastics or as performance additives, making them lighter, stronger and more environmentally friendly.

Hybrid Plastics has won many industry awards for its research and innovation. Among these awards are a $2 million grant from the Department of Commerce acknowledging the significance of this nanostructured chemical technology and its potential to significantly impact the U.S. economy; and the 2002 Collaboration Success Award, presented by the Council for Chemical Research for best collaboration among business, academia and government.

"The synergy of efforts among Southern Miss, Hybrid Plastics and ADP demonstrate with a concrete example how our university is committed to driving research and innovation to the marketplace," said Dr. Angeline Dvorak, vice president of research and economic development at Southern Miss.

"Hybrid Plastics understands that this university is a very different animal than most universities. We don't just speak about innovation and economic development; we live it. They are here because of it. Our local economic development alliance with ADP makes all of this possible."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM