USM shows off its benefits to the Coast

Steve Miller, vice president of the Gulf Park campus at the University of Southern Mississippi, discusses USM economic benefit to the state and Coast.
Steve Miller, vice president of the Gulf Park campus at the University of Southern Mississippi, discusses USM economic benefit to the state and Coast.

University of Southern Mississippi officials believe attracting more high-tech businesses to the Coast is just one way to ramp up enrollment at the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach.

School officials joined the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at a seminar at the Knight Nonprofit Center on Seaway Road to detail the economic benefits of USM to the state Coast and outline plans for the Gulf Park campus.

USM Gulf Park Vice President Steve Miller offered statistics showing the university’s economic contributions to the Coast. In fiscal year 2015, USM Gulf Coast directly generated $115.6 million, supported 1,283 jobs and generated $6.5 million in tax revenue. For the entire university, the number jumps to $603 million, Miller said. The main campus is in Hattiesburg.

“It’s no mistake that the university benefits financially from our focus on research and education,” Miller said. “It’s our bread and butter. It’s what sets us apart from other universities. A great portion of that takes place right here in the bottom three counties.”

Shannon Campbell, director of the Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at USM, said the Mississippi Development Authority has been working with the university.

“We work with MDA to determine what the jobs needs are in the community. And these are high-paying jobs like in the aviation industry or computer programming and software jobs,” she said. “We make sure we are producing the kind of students industry needs.”

Top jobs for graduates on the Coast include education, health care, STEM-related employment and hospitality and tourism.

In the near future, School of Ocean Science and Technology Director William Graham said smaller businesses with a focus on the high-tech industry are in demand on the Coast. He mentioned an ocean engineering program at Gulf Park. He has even bigger plans.

“We have a very real need with the shipbuilding to the east and Stennis to the west,” he said. “You know what the largest industry is in state? It’s maritime. It’s hugely important to the state, not to mention the tourism here. The state should appreciate the role of that maritime economy and work on ways to incentivize it.”

Miller said 60 percent of USM graduates get jobs in the state. To increase that percentage, he said there needs to be a better partnership with legislators. He said legislators could better partner with non-traditional industries such as the film industry to increase commerce in Mississippi. The USM Gulf Park campus and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College are the only two colleges in the state that offer film schools.

Kate Howard, USM assistant vice president and dean of admissions, said the university’s goal is to increase enrollment on the Coast from 3,000 to 5,000 students.

The consulting firm Tripp Umbach conducted the economic study. The firm used data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Census Bureau in examining USM’s economic impact.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory