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Mississippi State lands on impressive top 10 list

Starkville — A top 10 ranking for Mississippi State University (MSU) in a development magazine confirms what area development leaders already knew: MSU and the community have a great thing going in the realm of economic development.
Southern Business and Development, a Birmingham, Ala.,-based economic development journal, listed MSU as number three among the region’s top universities for fostering new businesses. The rankings are listed in a recent article titled “Ten university markets that really have their act together.”

University President Dr. Charles Lee said, “We are pleased that this publication recognizes what can be accomplished when business, scholars and state and federal financial supporters come together on behalf of economic development.”

David Thornell, CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, says his organization is getting great feedback and publicity from the ranking. “The university is our greatest resource, and our economic engine,” he said. “This ranking is a great validation for us and we appreciate the confidence this gives us in the development community and among businesses looking at expanding.”

He says his organization and the university work smoothly through cooperation and efforts because both are looking for the same results. “As the university grows, the community grows,” he said. “It gives us a unique strength to attract companies who would not look at a community our size if we did not have the university.”

Many pieces of the puzzle must fit to bring in new industry, Thornell said, pointing to recent additions to the community. Those include Aurora, a Virginia-based company that is collaborating with MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory in the development and manufacture of unmanned aerial vehicles. The other is II-IV Incorporated, which is collaborating with SemiSouth Laboratories in the establishment of a Silicon Carbide semiconductor substrate manufacturing facility.

Critical link

Craig A. Creaturo, CFO and treasurer of the Pennsylvania-based II-IV Incorporated, said he was not aware of the magazine ranking, but the cooperation of the university and the community is one of the main reasons the company located in Starkville.

“It’s the link between the local community, state legislature and academics of the university that brings us there,” he said. “It’s a closer relationship than any of the other locations we have. We’re in four other states and don’t see that closeness, unfortunately.”

He said his company was already working with SemiSouth and the partnership will be better now that the two entities are located in the same building in the Thad Cochran Technology and Research Park. The operation should be up and running by the end of the calendar year, employing five to eight technicians and engineers.

“This operation will focus more on the manufacturing side with industrial and military applications,” he said. “If we see that it will grow, it will be our main manufacturing site as our product line increases.”

Creaturo said the facility is a clean environment with a very precise type of work. “We are really interested in getting involved with the research and new technology of the companies there,” he said.

Colin Scanes, MSU vice president for research and graduate studies, is very pleased with the magazine ranking. He feels the working relationship between the university and the community will continue to move the area forward.

“It’s important and critical for the two to work closely together,” he said. “It works because of several things. It’s partly what the university has to offer the community, it’s new technology, personal contacts, the willingness to work together and it’s a nice place to live.”

He says the university hopes to increase the size of the research park and add infrastructure that will bring in new companies who will in turn spin off other companies. “We must have somewhere for them to locate and space is becoming a premium, but that’s a good sign,” he said.

Thornell said an expansion has been announced for phase two of the park, which is the oldest and largest university research park in the state. MSU owns the incubation center and the development partnership manages the program. A joint effort between the city and Oktibbeha County purchased the land. A new oversight board made up of equal members from the university and the community is now in place.

“I do think people are taking notice of what we provide for businesses,” he said. “We have promising things on the near horizon that will be announced soon.”

Scanes said the development partnership will continue to look for technology industry that will bring high salary jobs and clean environments to the area. He serves as president of the University Research and Technology Corporation, a nonprofit organization that helps commercialize some of the university’s research. The group took an interest in SemiSouth.

“Rather than taking a royalty on university intellectual property, we take an equity share,” he said. “We have a little bit going on but want more. This year we had more invention disclosures than ever before, and we always want to move it to the next level. We are dealing with a culture shifting of the faculty.”

Pointing to MSU’s current National Science Foundation ranking at 57th among the nation’s public universities for research and development expenditures, Scanes said the 127-year-old land-grant institution has a continuing mission of translating research into direct benefits for Mississippi.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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