April 18, 2014  

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College of Business Building Campaign Receives Significant Boost

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Southern Miss alumnus Chuck Scianna has already pledged $5 million toward the fundraising campaign to construct a new College of Business building at Southern Miss. (Submitted photo)

Thanks to a gift from The First Bancshares, Inc., The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation’s Building Better Business Campaign has exceeded the $8 million mark on the way to reaching its $10 million goal.

In addition, Southern Miss alumnus Chuck Scianna has issued a matching gift challenge to help raise the remaining $2 million needed to move forward with construction of the new College of Business building this summer. Any gift to the Building Better Business Campaignmade between February 1 and May 31, 2012, including the recent contribution from The First, will be matched by Scianna up to a cumulative total of $1 million.

“The First has been such a strong partner with Southern Miss and the College of Business that it is only fitting that their commitment to the new building moves us into the home stretch for breaking ground,” said Dr. Lance Nail, dean of the College of Business. “This gift furthers their investment in the University and the regional economy through training future generations of Finance professionals in the Center for Financial Services with cutting edge technology and real time data from around the globe.

“Knowing that this is the first gift that Chuck will match as part of his challenge is also special given that Chuck studied finance and his success is attributable to global markets.”

The gift from The First that pushed the fundraising initiative past 80 percent of its goal was solidified last week when The First’s board of directors decided to invest in the future of business in South Mississippi by contributing to the new College of Business building at Southern Miss. The contribution will award The First naming rights to the home of the college’s Center for Financial Services, a space that will feature finance workstations and up to the minute stock and other financial information.

The First Bancshares, Inc. is the holding company for The First, A National Banking Association. The company was founded and is headquartered in Hattiesburg, Miss. The First began operations in 1996 and serves South Mississippi and Louisiana with 17 full service banking locations and 202 full-time employees. The company has grown to $681 million in total assets, ranking it 12th in terms of total assets for banks headquartered in the state of Mississippi. The company’s stock is traded on the NASDAQ Global Market under the symbol FBMS.

“Our company has been very successful in a large part because of the support we have received from Southern Miss, its alumni, supporters and the south Mississippi community as a whole,” said Hoppy Cole, president and CEO of The First Bancshares, Inc. “Southern Miss is a significant economic driver in our area. It is critical that the University has state-of-the-art facilities to remain competitive and attract top quality students. Those students go on to be successful, productive members of our community, which elevates our regional economy.

“We are pleased to join with other supporters to help make the new College of Business building a reality and look forward to the many benefits this facility will provide to our south Mississippi community.”

The USM Foundation, in partnership with the University’s College of Business, announced the fundraising campaign on March 29, 2011, to aid in the construction of a new on-campus business school facility.

As of Feb. 20, 2012, the campaign has received $8.1 million in commitments, including a gift of $250,000 from Southern Miss alumni Louis and Lou Ann Poynter of Hattiesburg, a $1 million gift commitment from alumni Tom and Jana McDonnell of Madison, and a $5 million gift commitment from Chuck and Rita Scianna of Houston, Texas, to name the proposed building Scianna Hall.

The matching gift challenge, made by Scianna on January 31 at a fundraising event in Houston, Texas, should spur the completion of the campaign. All charitable contributions, regardless of size, made to support construction of the new facility will be matched by Scianna dollar for dollar up to the cumulative total of $1 million. Assuming $1 million is raised between February 1 and May 31, the Scianna match will bring the campaign to a successful conclusion. The match would also bring Scianna’s total gift commitment up to $6 million.

Scianna reinforced his commitment to do whatever it takes to complete the campaign. “As I have stated before, my investment in this project is an investment in higher education,” said Scianna. “I hope my challenge will encourage other Southern Miss alumni and friends of the University to step up, make the commitment and help us finish the campaign by May.”

The University received $11 million in state bonds from the Mississippi Legislature in 2010 and an additional $15 million from the Mississippi Legislature in state bonds for 2011. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant was a driving force behind the $26 million in state appropriations for the building.

With “Building Better Business” as its goal, the 90,000-square-foot structure, at a total estimated project cost of $33 million, will stand next to the Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship and will benefit 2,200 College of Business students, more than 65 faculty members and 17 staff members.

As a project funded completely by private donations and state bonds, the new facility will increase the square footage dedicated to the College of Business by 50 percent, house the Center for Healthcare Sales and Marketing and the Center for Financial Services, provide students with study and gathering spaces, and improve the technology with which business education is delivered to Southern Miss students.

“This is an exciting point in the Building Better Business Campaign,” said Bob Pierce, vice president for university advancement and executive director of The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation. “To have The First, a hometown bank that is in a major growth mode, make the gift to push us past the $8 million mark is significant enough in itself, but then to have our lead donor step up to the plate again by making a matching gift challenge to get us to $10 million is truly remarkable.

“This challenge should be just the catalyst we need to generate the final $2 million necessary to complete the campaign, and I can see no reason why we wouldn't have it finished by the end of May. Chuck Scianna has become a major player not only in the future of our College of Business but also for the University as a whole. Move over Steve Austin, it looks like Southern Miss now has its own $6 million man.”

Visit www.usmfoundation.com/sciannachallenge  to make a gift. For more information on the Building Better Business Campaign, visit www.usmfoundation.com/businessbuilding or call 601.266.5210.