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Dirt moving on hospitality/resort training center

HARRISON COUNTY — One of the key issues facing the tourism industry on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is workforce development. Finding and retaining personnel post-Hurricane Katrina has proven challenging.

So, hopes are high for a new, state-of-the-art Hospitality and Resort Management Center on the Jefferson Davis campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). The design work has been completed, and MGCCC has already started moving dirt for the two-story facility.

Dr. Susan Scaggs, Jefferson Davis campus vice president, is heading up the project. She points out that the campus’ hotel and restaurant management program is already one of the school’s most popular programs. The new facility represents MGCCC’s efforts to expand that program, supporting the local gaming/hospitality industry in such areas as culinary arts, tourism marketing and hotel/hospitality management.

“The concept started pre-Hurricane Katrina,” Scaggs said. “MGCCC looked at the workforce base in Harrison County and what the college needed to be offering.”

After the hurricane in 2005, the workforce development needs of the hospitality industry were a key issue in getting the casinos up and running again. Thus, MGCCC put on a bigger push to make the training center a reality.

The $14-million facility, designed by Eley Guild Hardy Architects, P.A., of Biloxi and Jackson, will offer numerous amenities. The center will feature demonstration/training kitchens, to be utilized by students as well as for cooking classes offered to the community. The facility will also house a student-run dining facility, several large conference rooms for workforce development instruction as well as the office of the workforce director at MGCCC.

The center got a boost last month when the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration invested more than $2 million in the project. The MGCCC applied for the EDA grant as a disaster recovery project based on the job losses sustained following Katrina in 2005, and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.

Beyond the federal grant, the project is being funded through the MGCCC Capital Improvement Fund and bonds from state and local governments. MGCCC has also received letters of assurance and support related to projected new hires expected as the hospitality industry grows in South Mississippi.

Work on the new center is being conducted in two phases, and the first — infrastructure — is almost complete. The facility represents a new director, literally, for the Jefferson Davis campus. The property is split by the Gulfport-Biloxi line, and most of the facilities are on the Gulfport side of the campus. The training center is to be built on the campus’ Biloxi side, and crews have been busy doing environmental assessments, running water and fiber and other work needed to support the new building.

The college is now working on facility details, particularly the right equipment for training. Scaggs said construction bids are to be let “any month now.”

According to a press release from Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) announcing the Commerce Department award, he said the center is scheduled to be operational in the 2010-2011 school year.

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