USM fundraiser for new College of Business gets gift, challenge

HATTIESBURG — Thanks to a gift from The First Bancshares Inc., the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation’s Building Better Business Campaign has exceeded the $8 million mark on the way to reaching its $10 million goal.

In addition, Southern Miss alumnus Chuck Scianna has issued a matching gift challenge to help raise the remaining $2 million needed to move forward with construction of the new College of Business building this summer. Any gift to the Building Better Business Campaign made between February 1 and May 31, 2012, including the recent contribution from The First, will be matched by Scianna up to a cumulative total of $1 million.

The gift from The First that pushed the fundraising initiative past 80 percent of its goal was solidified last week when The First’s board of directors decided to invest in the new College of Business building at Southern Miss. The contribution will award The First naming rights to the home of the college’s Center for Financial Services, a space that will feature finance workstations and up to the minute stock and other financial information.

The First Bancshares is the holding company for The First, A National Banking Association.

“Our company has been very successful in a large part because of the support we have received from Southern Miss, its alumni, supporters and the south Mississippi community as a whole,” said Hoppy Cole, president and CEO of The First Bancshares. “Southern Miss is a significant economic driver in our area. It is critical that the University has state-of-the-art facilities to remain competitive and attract top quality students. Those students go on to be successful, productive members of our community, which elevates our regional economy.”

The USM Foundation, in partnership with the University’s College of Business, announced the fundraising campaign March 29, 2011, to aid in the construction of a new on-campus business school facility.

As of Feb. 20, the campaign has received $8.1 million in commitments, including a gift of $250,000 from Southern Miss alumni Louis and Lou Ann Poynter of Hattiesburg, a $1 million gift commitment from alumni Tom and Jana McDonnell of Madison and a $5 million gift commitment from Chuck and Rita Scianna of Houston, Texas, to name the proposed building Scianna Hall.

The matching gift challenge, made by Scianna Jan. 31 at a fundraising event in Houston, Texas, should spur the completion of the campaign. All charitable contributions, regardless of size, made to support construction of the new facility will be matched by Scianna dollar for dollar up to the cumulative total of $1 million. Assuming $1 million is raised between Feb. 1 and May 31, the Scianna match will bring the campaign to a successful conclusion. The match would also bring Scianna’s total gift commitment up to $6 million.

“As I have stated before, my investment in this project is an investment in higher education,” said Scianna. “I hope my challenge will encourage other Southern Miss alumni and friends of the University to step up, make the commitment and help us finish the campaign by May.”

The university received $11 million in state bonds from the Mississippi Legislature in 2010 and an additional $15 million from the Mississippi Legislature in state bonds for 2011.

With “Building Better Business” as its goal, the 90,000-square-foot structure, at a total estimated project cost of $33 million, will stand next to the Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship and will benefit 2,200 College of Business students, more than 65 faculty members and 17 staff members.

As a project funded completely by private donations and state bonds, the new facility will increase the square footage dedicated to the College of Business by 50 percent, house the Center for Healthcare Sales and Marketing and the Center for Financial Services, provide students with study and gathering spaces, and improve the technology with which business education is delivered to Southern Miss students.

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