University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg Boosts Economy

May 4, 2011 at 7:14 pm EST
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PHOTO CREDIT: Brian McCord

It would be enough if the University of Southern Mississippi simply carried out its work of providing a high-quality education to some 16,000 students at its main campus in Hattiesburg and five teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The university, founded in 1910, offers 90 undergraduate degree programs in a range of studies, as well as 75 graduate and doctoral programs.

But its work is felt beyond the classroom and deep into the Pine Belt, where its knowledge assets aid area companies, its investments in numerous initiatives advance the region’s fortunes and its economic impact is felt deeply in the community.

Direct university employment alone generates a payroll of $94 million. Coupled with secondary jobs and related income, the economic impact is almost $127 million. Sales taxes to local governments from university-connected purchases total almost $700,000.

Among its many centers of excellence, Southern Miss is home to the highly regarded School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, housed in a $30 million facility with $20 million in of state-of-the-art research instrumentation. And university is a key backer of The Garden, a 521-acre innovation and commercialization park in Hattiesburg that will help transform ideas into marketable products and be an economic driver for the region. 

“We are trying to build a culture of innovation,” says Dr. Cecil Burge, vice president for research and economic development at Southern Miss. “In essence, research turns money into knowledge, and innovation turns knowledge into money. We believe in cultivating ideas and helping turn them into viable businesses that can impact the marketplace with products and jobs.” 

Burge notes that university research in Mississippi is now considered a major business with an equivalent $500 million in annual revenue.

Since 2001, the Southern Miss research enterprise has brought nearly $500 million into the university, providing jobs, helping create needed infrastructure, attracting top-flight faculty and enhancing academic opportunities for students.

Several areas of university research, such as the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, Marine Aquaculture at Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and Ocean Observation Systems at Stennis Space Center are multimillion-dollar enterprises on their own.

“We are trying to build an innovation continuum where we have a hand in training students to do research, starting companies, and then helping them expand here in Mississippi,” Burge says. Attracting more research funding, he says, allows for a participative learning environment for students and ensures the university remains competitive in the future.

As home to a symphony orchestra, art gallery, major college sports programs and other cultural, recreational and community service offerings, the university has a broad reach.

“Southern Miss helps enhance the success of the entire region, in a broad sense, through enhancing the quality of life,” says Burge.

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