August 21, 2014  

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Innovation at Mississippi Public Universities Ignites Economic Development

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Businesses and industries thrive when they discover how to meet a need in new, faster, better, stronger way. In other words, innovation is a crucial key to success for any organization. 

Mississippi is full of creative, innovative individuals and businesses and this innovation has been recognized throughout this month. Governor Phil Bryant proclaimed November as Innovation Month in Mississippi and it has given us a time to recognize the many innovative people, companies and projects we have in the state.

Mississippi Public Universities facilitate innovation in a number of ways. From university research and university-business partnerships to assisting companies by providing business incubator facilities and equipment, university innovation leads to economic development, job creation and an improved quality of life for all Mississippians.

Researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi's School of Polymers and High Performance Materials are working to develop a portable energy source using light from the sun to produce organic solar cells. The power generated from the cells can then be used to power cell phones, tablet devices, laptops and night vision goggles all around the world.

Last summer, Alcorn State University’s Extension Program partnered with USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Royal International LLC to hold the Small Ruminant (Goat) Field Day and Workshop at the Royal’s family farm in Crystal Springs. The workshop provided small and limited-resources farmers with valuable information on production and marketing of goats, which is the most widely-consumed meat in the world and has a demand that is constantly growing.

The workshop is part of an agreement between Alcorn and Royal International that provides the university with a site for farming and research, giving its faculty and students with valuable hands-on experience, and provides Royal with research, extension and educational services, and activities that will result in improved farming technology and management systems.

An important piece of the economic development puzzle is the transportation infrastructure available to help companies receive the supplies they need to produce their goods and then to send those goods out to the world. The University of Mississippi recently received a $12 million grant from the National Center for Intermodal Transportation for Economic Competitiveness for transportation infrastructure research projects. The grants will be used to study ways to detect hazardous conditions, protect transportation systems and save lives in the process.

Having a healthy workforce is another important factor in economic development. Jackson State University recently celebrated the 13th anniversary of the landmark Jackson Heart Study, the largest all-African American cohort study of cardiovascular disease in the country. The study is a collaborative effort among  JSU, Tougaloo College and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Jackson State was recently awarded almost $3.1 million in funding for the Community Outreach Center of the Jackson Heart Study. The center will provide community health education activities, disseminating translated scientific articles and JHS findings for the community, communicating health promotion and prevention messages, and conducting cohort and community engagement activities.

Building on the Jackson Heart Study, a new collaborative research relationship between the American Heart Association, the University of Mississippi and Boston University was announced recently at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Dallas. Representing a bold vision for cardiovascular population science, the collaboration has a vision of greatly expanding important population studies by adding more research subjects, more diverse subjects, more genetic analysis and deeper new approaches to gathering information in an effort to find more personalized treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Mississippi University for Women recently established the Office of Outreach and Innovation to be a one-stop coordinator of all campus programs designed to serve the community and the state. In addition to the outreach effort, the center will foster collaboration across campus units and facilitate the implementation of innovative practices across campus to advance institutional efficiencies and priorities.

Mississippi State University’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension Center in Canton will lead a multi-partner effort to accelerate job creation and encourage reshoring of advanced manufacturing jobs that have moved overseas. Funded by a nearly $2 million grant provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, the project brings together several community colleges, workforce investment boards, InnovateMississippi and the Mississippi Development Authority to finds ways to encourage U.S. companies to keep, expand or reshore their manufacturing operations in America and to entice foreign companies to build facilities to make their products in the U.S.

Delta State University’s Delta Center for Culture and Learning recently worked with the Mississippi Development Authority to help businesses better understand the Delta’s rich cultural heritage. MDA provided several days of touring for site locators and the Delta Center helped excite the agents about the Delta by reviewing the region’s history and the roles that the Delta’s people have played in the American story.

Companies are looking for future employees that can use the latest technology tools to improve efficiency and increase profitability. Mississippi Valley State University has established the Automated Technology and Technology Management program to ensure graduates are prepared to become management-oriented technical professionals with a concentration in architectural construction management, computer-aided drafting and design, electronics, industrial management and manufacturing/robotics.

The first round of applications for the Strengthening Mississippi Academic Research Through Business Act (SMART Business Act) rebate program was completed earlier this month. The SMART Business Act was adopted during the 2013 Legislative Session to stimulate private investment in research and development through partnerships with Mississippi Public Universities; develop the competitiveness of Mississippi companies; and improve the economy of Mississippi.  A second open application period will begin in early January.

There are more than 170 institutes and centers that are part of the university system. These institutes and centers provide research, service and outreach on a wide range of topics and help recruit and retain businesses across the state.

Innovation Month in Mississippi has provided our state with a great opportunity to focus on innovation and what it means to all of our citizens. However, all Mississippians can rest assured that our universities spend every day focused on finding innovative ways to solve Mississippi’s most pressing problems,  help create jobs and increase economic development.