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Plans include bridging gap between theory and practice

USM building top economic development program

Hattiesburg – The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has made several strides this year to enhance economic development programs in an effort to make USM one of the top schools in the country in the field of economic and community development.

Earlier this year Dr. Tim Hudson, head of USM`s International and Continuing Education Department, was also named an associate vice president for administrative affairs, which gives him broader administrative authority to pull all economic development activities under one umbrella.

The state college board has also approved USM creating a Department of Economic Development designed to bridge the gap between economic development theory and practice.

Robert Ingram, a former mayor of McComb and the new president of the Mississippi Economic Development Council, has been hired to be executive director of economic development.

“We want to have one of the premier economic development programs not just in Mississippi, but in the country,” Ingram said. “We have an outstanding economic development program already offered here. There are only three other institutions in the country that offer the master`s degree in economic development program. We have an undergraduate degree in planning and development, and are getting ready to offer a Ph.D. in international development, which will really make us unique in the U.S. in economic development.”

Ingram said his focus will be helping the university find ways to become more involved in community and economic development around the state. He describes his role as primarily being a facilitator to get USM brain power involved solving problems and creating new opportunities for the state.

“If someone comes to me, an economic developer, a business or a community with a problem or opportunity, I try to find a resource within the university that will help them with the problem or opportunity,” Ingram said. “I facilitate the arrangements to try to make that a reality. Our programs are growing, and we are actively looking for ways to get our graduate students involved in projects that will help community development. We want our economic development programs to be second to none, and we are constantly looking for ways to enhance the programs, both the educational part and community outreach. We look forward to working with anyone we can assist. Our intent is to have a community development program second to none in the entire nation.”

USM is currently headquarters for the Economic Development Research Institute formerly located at Cleveland State University in Ohio. The institute is the headquarters for the nation`s largest professional association for economic development professionals.

The USM Center for Community and Economic Development has also just joined hands with the Biloxi-based Mississippi Contract Procurement Center. That center is a network across the state that helps small and large businesses become more competitive in bidding for millions of dollars of government contracts each year. The center includes a highly computerized network system that alerts businesses and industries to government contract opportunities, and gives information about bidding procedures.

This September about 45 development leaders from throughout the state are expected to participate in USM`s New South Economic Development Course. Dr. Ron Swager, professor of economic development, said the program accredited by the American Economic Development Council is designed to helped private and public sector people active in economic development in their communities.

The week-long, intensive course is an introduction to the fundamentals of economic development. About one third of participants are entry-level economic developers who have just come on board with state or local economic development agencies. Another third are elected officials and community volunteers in economic development. The remaining third of participants include representatives from businesses involved in economic development such as those from utility companies.

“We believe fundamentals are really important,” Swager sad. “One thing we try to do is give the class an overview and perspective of what economic development is all about. That is an important piece of the puzzle that we often don`t have. What is the community like? How does economic development work as a process? Much of the course is centered of actual techniques and approaches taken for economic development strategic planning such as how to recruit and retain businesses.”

The course is divided into two parts: preparing community for economic development and promoting economic development.

Swager said this year they are focusing on the theme of change, the changing conditions facing economic development, discussing both the process of economic development and economic developers as change agents.

“This is particularly timely as we appear to be going through some major changes in the global economy right now,” Swager said. “It is those kinds of issue we want to address.”

In addition to classroom instruction, the course will include tours of the Gulf Coast and Hattiesburg. For more information, call (601) 266-4729.

About Becky Gillette

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