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SUMESH ARORA — PPP’s designed to bring innovations to market



Continuing the theme of public-private partnerships, we saw from the Butterfly Model in my last column that there are four sets of players who are critical to building successful partnerships.  These are 1) entities such as federal, state, county, and city governmental bodies 2) academic institutions including universities, colleges, junior colleges, technical schools, and K-12 schools 3) private sector entities including small and large publicly traded and private corporations, sole proprietorships and partnerships, and 4) non-profit or non-governmental organizations such as industry or trade groups, economic development organizations, advocacy organizations, or social service organizations.  Furthermore, there has to be external and independent financial and technical oversight to ensure transparency and build trust among the various partners.

A great example of a multi-stakeholder PPP is the recently created Mississippi Business Engagement Network (MBEN) which is a unique partnership with 1) a state agency – the Mississippi Development Authority, 2) state universities and the Mississippi Research Consortium 2) designed to engage private industry to encourage research and 4) collaborates with non-profits such as the Mississippi Economic Development Council, and the Mississippi Economic Council.  The State Board for the Institutions for Higher Learning is the coordinating body for MBEN and furthermore the network’s efforts are also guided by business and economic development advisory groups.

MBEN is a unique and prosperous combination representing a partnership formula for future successes for our state. As per the description on its website, the goal of MBEN is to create, enhance and sustain partnerships between businesses and Mississippi’s public research universities. By partnering with local economic developers and state agencies, these unique partnerships aid in recruiting new businesses to Mississippi, support the growth of existing businesses and provide training for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and innovators in today’s classrooms.

The eight public institutions include two land-grant universities, three historically black institutions, a law center, and academic health science center and a school of veterinary medicine.  Altogether, Mississippi public universities house more than 200 centers and institutes that advance knowledge in specific subject areas through research, public presentations and seminars, professional development and other services.

The centers and institutes focus on a broad spectrum of topics which address many current issues in a wide variety of industry sectors such as advanced manufacturing, aerospace, agribusiness, automotive, energy, healthcare, shipbuilding, and tourism and film, distribution and warehousing and data centers and information technology.

To name a few, there are the National Center for Spectator Sports and Safety and Security or NCS4 at the University of Southern Mississippi, National Center for Physical Acoustics at the University of Mississippi, The Center of Excellence in Minority Health and Health Disparities at Jackson State University and the recently formed National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Mississippi State University. Collectively, the centers and institutes located at universities throughout the state are an unmatched resource for advancing Mississippi and they serve and collaborate with interested parties throughout the world.  The website for MBEN is http://msben.com/ and I encourage you to explore this further.

To further encourage such collaboration with the universities, the “Strengthening Mississippi Academic Research Through Business” Act (SMART Business Act), was established by Mississippi law during the 2013 legislative session, with the intent to meet the following goals: “stimulate private investment in research and development through partnerships with Mississippi public universities; increase the competitiveness of Mississippi companies; and improve the economy of the State of Mississippi.”

Approved applicants incurring qualified research costs subject to a new research agreement approved under this act are eligible for a rebate equal to 25 percent of the investor’s qualified research costs, not to exceed $1,000,000. The total funding support from the State of Mississippi is $5,000,000 per fiscal year.

Any natural person, partnership, Limited Liability Company, association, corporation, business trust or other business entity not formed for the specific purpose of acquiring the rebate offered, and which is subject to Mississippi income or franchise tax is eligible to apply for the SMART Business Act.  Applications for the SMART Business Act must be submitted electronically and areas of healthcare, energy and advanced manufacturing are high priority areas.  This SMART Act website is:  https://www.smartbusact.mississippi.edu/.

A national model of a PPP is the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which has about 60 centers around the country with at least one center in every state.  This program is supported through the United States Department of Commerce’s National Institute Standards of Technology and is commonly referred to as the NIST-MEP program.  InnovateMEP Mississippi is our state’s MEP and is headquartered at Innovate Mississippi in Ridgeland, with five regional centers located at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension in Canton, Mississippi Polymer Institute in Hattiesburg, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Itawamba Community College and the Mississippi Corridor Consortium of junior colleges.

InnovateMEP works with over 200 Mississippi manufacturers annually with the mission of helping them become globally competitive by deploying innovative products and services that produce quantitative impacts and top line growth. The InnovateMEP mission has been realized through millions of dollars in new sales, retained sales, cost savings and investment as well as thousands of new and retained jobs with exemplary assistance from the network’s partners across the state.  The website for InnovateMEP is www.mep.ms.

The economic results for InnovateMEP Mississippi for fiscal year ending in 2015, verified by an independent third party, were as follows:

• New and Retained Sales – $114 Million; Cost Savings – $4 Million

• New Jobs in the state – 3,501; Retained Jobs – 584

• Investment in New Products/Processes/Plant and Equipment/IT – $146 Million

• Investment in Workforce Practices or Employee Skills and other areas – $10 Million

Once again, you can see the power of effective PPP’s and how different organizations have come together for ensuring economic prosperity in Mississippi.  A common coal cannot be accomplished by one person, one organization, one agency, one company or one university alone.  So if the goal is common, then the responsibility has to be shared amongst many.  A butterfly cannot fly with missing or damaged wings.  A collaborative environment, which builds upon mutual respect and a deep understanding of complementary strengths of the various players, is a proven recipe for successful public private partnerships.

» Dr. Sumesh Arora is Vice President at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.  His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development.  Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.


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