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Most 2002 stops focus on small cities

Technology@Home tour continues through September

Helping Mississippi communities explore ways to benefit from the advancement of technology is at the heart of the second Technology@Home in Mississippi Tour.

From July to September, the Mississippi Technology Alliance, a champion of science and technology-based economic development for the state, will visit Bay St. Louis, Canton, Columbia, Columbus, Gautier, Holly Springs, Itta Bena, Kosciusko, Lorman, McComb, Picayune, Purvis, Senatobia, Vicksburg, West Point and Winona, holding community conversations about high technology across Mississippi. The meetings are free.

“During the 2001 Technology@Home In Mississippi Tour, we visited 16 communities to discuss the importance of advancing technology in our state,” said MTA President and CEO Angeline “Angie” Godwin Dvorak, Ph.D. “Community conversations about technology are now more important than ever because we live in and compete in a global economy, which grants Mississippi communities an outstanding opportunity to move boldly into a new and exciting arena.”

As a result of last year’s tour, several technology councils have popped up across the state, including the Mississippi Gulf Coast Technology Council, an organization representing the state’s six southernmost counties. Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission, spearheaded the effort, which complements the newly established Mississippi I-59 Technology Corridor.

“MTA came into this process early on, and extended a $3,000 grant to assist in technology development efforts,” said Olivier. “Jackson and Pearl River counties also qualified for the grant, and both dedicated $3,000 each to that effort. At its last meeting, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Economic Development Council awarded the council a $6,500 grant, with each of the 65 members, true leaders in our community, offering their names as founding members. When you have that kind of support, others will want to join and a network is already in process.”

Part of the money was used to establish an interactive Web site, develop a brochure and fund ads in Pointe Innovation magazine to let people know about the technology council and its goals, Olivier said.

“We want to offer members access to job listings through our Web site and the ability to network among businesses that utilize technologies,” he said. “If we have guys in the banking industry dealing with JavaScript, they need to talk to other software gurus so they can commiserate with each other.”

For the second consecutive year, Gray Swoope, president of the Area Development Partnership in south Mississippi, will host one of the tour stops.

“We picked Purvis because it’s sometimes more difficult identifying technology-related companies in rural locations,” he said. “When we set up the I-59MS Technology Corridor, we found that with so many tech companies, we didn’t have a grasp of who’s there. This isn’t a business where you can plug in an SIC code and have all of them turn up.”

Plenty of lessons were learned on last year’s tour, said Dvorak.

“One lesson we learned, we tagged the tour Technology@Home in Mississippi because we truly believed technology was at home in Mississippi,” she said. “We were right on the money that it was there, but we underestimated the degree to which technology is at home in Mississippi. We found a lot more than we could have ever anticipated — more companies, more high-level tech jobs, people doing business all over the country and the world. On the flip side, we learned that we were going to have to get out and be much more aggressive at telling Mississippi’s story.”

People with high-tech skills might be very attracted to living in Mississippi, where a nice coastal home costs a fraction of what it would in California, said Olivier.

“We need tech companies to know the Coast is ready for them and they can find the skill levels they require, and we need people with tech skills to know we have the jobs available for them,” he said.

Lack of investment capital is probably the biggest obstacle hindering growth, said Dvorak.

“In states across the country, where startup activities are being successful, there’s a core of indigenous investment capital,” she said. “That means we need Mississippians willing to invest in Mississippi companies. Investment capital will go where there are good deals. We’ve got some good deals in Mississippi. We just have to get doors open. We hope there are individuals in the private sector as we move forward that really want to step up and be a part of this. It’s a double bottom line. Investors have to make money, but they can make money and build the future of Mississippi at the same time.”

Communities have expressed interest in learning how to secure funding for technology infrastructure as they would any other infrastructure, said Dvorak.

“We also know that there’s going to be much concern about public safety and public information access in communities, spinning off the 9/11 events,” she said. “Technology is at the heart of making that happen.”

For more information on the Technology@Home in Mississippi Tour, call (601) 960-3610 or visit www.technologyalliance.ms.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

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