Released March 18, 2003


LONG BEACH – With the creation of the Center for Tourism and Economic Development Research (CENTED), The University of Southern Mississippi has positioned itself to take the lead in research, service and education for one of the world's fastest-growing industries.

"The importance of tourism in the state of Mississippi cannot be overstated," said center Director Tony Henthorne, a professor of marketing and director of the Institute for Service Excellence at Southern Miss. "Currently, 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."

Located on the Gulf Coast, the heart of the gaming industry in Mississippi, CENTED will strive to improve the tourism product, increase the benefits of the tourism industry and foster an understanding of the role tourism plays in economic development.

Both here in the United States and around the world, the travel and tourism industry is an engine for economic development. Therefore, while reporting to the provost of the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus, CENTED will extend its reach regionally, nationally and globally, university officials said.

"CENTED positions Southern Miss to lead the way in examining the relationship between the entire tourism industry and long-term economic development -- not just along the coast of Mississippi, but worldwide" Gulf Coast Provost Tim Hudson said.

In 2000 alone, the travel and tourism industry employed more than 18 million people in the United States at an annual payroll of $259 billion, making it the second-largest employer in the nation. Worldwide, tourism is estimated to employ more than 200 million people, both directly and indirectly, with 5.5 million new jobs anticipated by 2010.

During the last 10 years, world tourism has increased more than 65 percent and tourism in the Caribbean region has grown 100 percent during the same period. CENTED will act as a central repository and resource base for data relating to the tourism industry, Henthorne said.

In Mississippi, the tourism industry has grown even more dramatically, in large part because of gaming. Before 1992, when casinos first appeared in Biloxi, that city attracted approximately one million visitors a year. Eight years after the advent of gaming, Biloxi tourism served more than 22 million visitors. Currently, gaming revenues comprise approximately 44 percent of all state tourism and recreation income.

But until now, the gaming industry has "been lacking a serious research center," said Beverly Martin, executive director of the Gulf Coast Gaming Association. "Southern Miss has done research in the past -- a study for the state Legislature on the impact of gaming – so apparently they are well versed and articulate on the issues," she said. "We look forward to utilizing this local research center with future projects."

All told, Mississippi tourism generated $6.1 billion in 2000, which exceeded the $5.6 billion from the previous fiscal year. Employing almost 100,000 Mississippians, the tourism industry is the state's second-largest service sector employer.

"CENTED was created, in part," Henthorne said, "to help get out the word regarding this vital sector. As Mississippi's tourism image and reach continues to grow and expand beyond our borders, so will CENTED's."

Although CENTED is a nonacademic program, it will work closely with the university's Master's of Economic Development degree program to develop a specialized tourism track and involve students in research projects. Within three years, CENTED aims to enlist at least 25 students in this program.

Hudson said that since he assumed the role of Gulf Coast provost last July, he has been working hard to find ways in which Southern Miss can be more directly involved in meeting the needs of the community and contributing to economic development.

"CENTED will be a bridge to one of our major industries while providing our students an opportunity to engage in meaningful research. The plan is for CENTED to become self-supporting through competitive research contracts and training programs within the next three to five years," Hudson said.

Robert Rohrlack Jr., executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority and a Southern Miss alumnus, said Mississippi's network of colleges and universities is instrumental in helping the MDA pursue fresh economic development opportunities for the state.

"CENTED at The University of Southern Mississippi will be the latest partner in our statewide efforts to implement innovative strategies to attract both leisure travelers and industrial developers to the state. The work at CENTED will complement and enhance our ongoing cluster studies and impact analyses," Rorhlack said.



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July 9, 2003 11:31 AM