Certification initiative mapping path to technology development

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Published: January 21,2008

From the perspective of economic development efforts, globalization has provoked a strengthening awareness that at least one priority strategy must shift away from commodities and attraction to focus on value-added innovation and entrepreneurship, says Dr. Myrtis Tabb, assistant vice president of partnerships and special projects and interim director of human resources at Delta State University (DSU).

Innovation engine

“The global economy is knowledge and idea based where the keys to job creation and higher standards of living are innovative ideas and technology-embedded services and products,” Tabb said.

Washington and Boliver counties are now in the process of implementing a roadmap to help develop more knowledge-based economic development in their region. The two Delta counties are the first in the state to receive Community Innovation Certification (CIC) through a pilot program was developed through a partnership between the Mississippi Technology Council, the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA), the Delta Technology Alliance and Delta State University. Future Point Consulting provided guidance throughout the process. Funding was provided by the U. S. Small Business Administration, AT&T, Entergy, the City of Cleveland and the Washington County Board of Supervisors.

The CIC program identifies a community’s strengths and weaknesses and provides the framework by which a community can equip itself to embrace technology-dependent applications for residents, small business, large business, city and county government and medical and educational institutions.

The CIC pilot program concentrated on assessing the resource needs of innovative enterprises and high technology or high performing companies that are the drivers that fuel a community or region’s economy and increase competitive capacity.

Tommy Hart, executive director of the Economic Development District of Washington County, said the most prosperous communities are those with technology-based businesses.

Fueling sustainable development

“Technology fuels sustainable economic expansion, creating high wage jobs, world-class exports and productivity,” Hart said.

Judson Thigpen, executive director of the Cleveland/Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce, said they are very excited about the CIC pilot program.

“It gives us an excellent opportunity to assess our current status in respect to technology/innovation and to determine what our needs will be for the future,” Thigpen said.

The strategic plan developed for Boliver and Washington counties concentrates on three main areas: Technology transfer, entrepreneurship and access to capital.

For Washington County, one of best opportunities for technology transfer is the research being done at the USDA Mississippi State University Research Center in Stoneville. For Boliver County, research at DSU is a resource that could be mined to create jobs and economic development.

“There are some opportunities to commercialize technology developed over there,” said Bubba Weir, vice president for community services, MTA. “We want to work with them to exploit those. The main thing communities need to do is look at is the assets they have. If they are close to a university or federal research lab, there are opportunities to commercialize technology from the research being developed at those facilities. Each community has to look at what strengths they have that are an opportunity to them.”

Entrepreneurial element

Another key element is entrepreneurship. Both counties are looking at the possibility of developing an entrepreneurship incubator to help startup companies get off the grounds. Weir said it is critical to have a culture of entrepreneurship whether that is teaching entrepreneurship at high school level, entrepreneurship training in the community, and other support like an incubator.

The third key element is access to capital. The CIC partners are working together with the Delta Council to help develop a regional angel capital network to provide funding for startup companies.

“Access to capital is absolutely critical,” Weir said. “Other things communities have to look at are things like human resources necessary for support activities, like accountants and marketing companies that could help support technology companies.”

Weir adds that one thing is clear. While two separate plans were developed for Washington and Boliver counties, it is best for communities to work together as a region.

“That is where we are headed now,” Weir said. “Instead of Certified Innovative Communities, we will have regional innovation networks. We are working closely with Momentum Mississippi program to do things regionally such as regional angel investment groups, regional entrepreneurship training, and also doing some things with what we call regional technology prospecting.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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