USM Launches Gulf Blue Initiative to Elevate Mississippi’s Blue Economy
Wed, 07/14/2021 - 16:50pm | By: Jenny Tate
Today, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), in conjunction with partner organizations across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, announced an initiative to place Mississippi on the global stage for blue economy-related work.
This initiative – Gulf Blue – is poised to bring “Big Ideas Out of the Blue” capitalizing on the region’s geography and maritime resources and positioning the Mississippi Gulf Coast to lead the development of world-changing innovation. Gulf Blue pools the knowledge of research scientists, federal agencies, industry partners and entrepreneurs to further develop the region as a global leader in ocean- and maritime-related technologies.
“The University of Southern Mississippi has been committed to charting a path forward for our Coastal Operations that not only advances the development of key academic programs that serve our coastal community, business, and economic needs, but that also elevates our robust research enterprise – in partnership with coastal business and industry – to harness the momentum of our state’s growing blue economy and to propel the Mississippi Gulf Coast into its transformative future,” said University President Rodney D. Bennett.
USM has been strategically investing in maritime infrastructure that positions Mississippi to advance technology through an initial set of six blue tech innovation clusters:
- uncrewed maritime systems
- ocean-friendly plastics
- precision aquaculture
- smart ports
- sea-space systems
- coastal data
“With growing excitement for evolving blue technology and innovation around the globe, and with no prior blue tech cluster located in the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi is uniquely positioned to pursue this tremendous opportunity with Gulf Blue and capitalize on the growth sectors of the global blue economy,” said Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations.
A few big ideas related to the blue economy include maximizing existing, world-class ocean research capabilities; connecting entrepreneurs and startups with federal agencies and capital investments; and promoting the unique qualities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast to attract and retain both talent and industry.
“Each county along the coast of Mississippi has assets and we take those assets, collaborate together with the universities, in particular The University of Southern Mississippi being a conduit, to then build a stronger blue tech economy,” said Mary Martha Henson, Deputy Director for the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.
Collaborations with private blue tech companies, including Ocean Aero, focused on developing intelligent autonomous underwater vehicles; AI Control Technologies Inc., focused on developing automation for the aquaculture industry; and SeaAhead, a blue tech startup platform; are also key to the success of the Gulf Blue initiative.
“We are thrilled to support USM’s leadership in the blue economy future,” said Alissa Peterson, Co-Founder and Executive Director of SeaAhead. “We believe that the Gulf Coast has an important role to play in the development of innovations related to the ocean and that the creation of the Gulf Blue brand will support the competitiveness of this effort globally.”
USM’s presence across all three coastal counties and expertise in ocean-related fields are integral components of the Gulf Blue initiative. USM’s assets along the Mississippi Gulf Coast include the Gulf Park campus (the hub for academic instruction on the Gulf Coast), Hydrographic Science Research Center, Center for Research Fisheries and Development, Gulf Coast Geospatial Center, Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center, Marine Research Center, Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise (opening 2022), and a fleet of research vessels.
These assets, along with partner organizations, form a unique maritime infrastructure to support design, testing and refining ocean- and maritime-related technologies.
“The Gulf Blue initiative is really going to support not only Navy and NOAA, the government agencies, but also USM in academia and also new innovations and new companies that are moving to the Gulf Coast,” said Dr. William (Bill) Burnett, Technical Director for the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command.
The historic Gulf & Ship Island Building in Gulfport, Mississippi, is the centerpiece facility for the new Gulf Blue initiative and features 24-hour connected space for blue tech innovators. Downtown Gulfport provides convenient access to the Port of Gulfport, rail, interstates, and the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. This central location also helps to connect innovators and startups with academic and research expertise and students at USM’s coastal locations.
“The University of Southern Mississippi is one of a few universities in the country that is intentionally aligning economic development strategy with our research and academic expertise,” said Dr. Shannon Campbell, USM Senior Associate Vice President for Coastal Operations. “And now, with Gulf Blue, we are taking ownership of an attractive innovation economy and helping to grow and advance the Gulf Coast region.”
USM’s presence at the Gulf & Ship Island Building is managed through a lease between
the USM Research Foundation and Mississippi Power.