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‘Human capital’ central to selling The Garden

The job of recruiting for The Garden Innovation and Commercialization Park has landed with economic development specialists Chad Newell and Rick Duke.

Their pitches may vary some depending on the prospect’s business sector, but ultimately they are selling the availability of “human capital” accompanied by the promise of shovel-ready lots on which the prospect can put a building.

“We are interested in companies locating in The Garden that want to have a broad relationship with the University of Southern Mississippi,” said Rick Duke, director of USM’s Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development & Entrepreneurship.

“This is a huge innovation opportunity for companies that want to be close to this human capital,” Duke said.

Newell, director of Area Development Partnership, or ADP, said companies looking for R&D locations as well as manufacturing locations could be suitable prospects for the new park.

Polymer-related companies would, of course, be high-priority targets, since the prime mover behind The Accelerator (a business incubator and The Garden’s first tenant) is USM’s Polymer Institute. “Information technology companies would also be a good fit,” Newell said. “Other office related uses could be possible, too.”

The Garden is minutes from USM in north Hattiesburg off Classic Drive on what was once University Golf Course. A couple hundred of its 600 acres are designated as a nature preserve and will not be built on. The rest of the park, however, is shovel-ready, according to its certification as “Project Ready,” a process funded by Mississippi Power that took two years to complete.

The park achieved the McCallum Sweeney Consulting certification after meeting detailed criteria regarding ownership, zoning, site mapping, infrastructure analyses, environmental and archaeological reviews.

Short road entrances for access to The Garden have been made along both sides of Classic Drive, a well-maintained two-lane blacktop that connects with U.S. 49 near the Interstate 59 interchange. Those road entrances can be extended to parcels on which tenants want to put their buildings.

Further, Shelby Thames Drive, the road on which The Accelerator is situated, provides road access around the west end of the park. Planners located The Accelerator well into the park as a way to ensure road, utilities and telecommunications infrastructure would be extended for a considerable distance.

While manufacturing and shipping will be among operations that occur in the park, their intensity will be limited, according to Duke. “We aren’t going to get a parade of tractor trailers going up and down Classic Drive.”

The most desirable acreage, he said, is along Classic Drive and Thames Drive.

The City of Hattiesburg is planning additional roads to serve the park, he added.

The Garden will be offering tenants build-to-suit buildings for long-term leasing. “The university would continue to own the land and the company would lease perhaps both the land and the building,” said Duke.

At this point, Duke added, “we’re not going to preclude having a spec building,” though it is too early to give an idea of its size.

Also at this point, the park does not plan to sell individual lots, he added.

The extensive acreage set aside as a nature preserve and planned walking trails should be strong selling points, Duke said. “We have some very beautiful pristine wetlands within the park that present incredible ecological and natural settings.

“People can just get out and walk. And I envision that could be inducive to sustaining creativity.”

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