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New MSU business incubator offers hope for economic recovery


Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and United States Rep. Gregg Harper look on as Sen. Thad Cochran speaks at the opening of a new business incubator at the Thad Cochran Research and Technology Park on Monday.

Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and United States Rep. Gregg Harper look on as Sen. Thad Cochran speaks at the opening of a new business incubator at the Thad Cochran Research and Technology Park on Monday. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff




Despite heavy rain, the grand opening of the new business incubator at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park drew a large, prominent crowd on Monday, filling the conference room nearly to capacity. 


But as far as office space is concerned, the new 20,000-square-foot building, which will also house operations for silicon carbide manufacturer II-VI Inc., was booked up long ago. 


A circulating sea of suits, smiles and handshakes preceded the grand opening, which saw Mississippi State University officials and state representatives from the nation's capital express their gratitude and extend their support for the new building and the companies it will accommodate. 


Funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Mississippi Development Authority, the building currently has 11 tenants, a mix of faculty, student and community start-ups, which are creating 100 new jobs. 


For MSU President Mark Keenum, the new space is just in time. 


"This comes not too soon for all of us," he said. "We have a great need for new incubator space to accommodate the outgrowth of our research enterprises." 


The university has spun off an average of four new faculty lead companies and eight student start-ups over the last few years, Keenum added, and with MSU's strategic plan for the next five years including a 25 percent increase in the rate of university start-ups, those numbers will likely grow. 


U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, whose name the research park honors, stressed the significance of the research and leadership at the university and in the city of Starkville. 


"We are bringing together the best qualified and most creative minds to work together to demonstrate the rewards of innovation and entrepreneurship," Cochran said.  


And that applies to the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park as a whole, as Greg Bohach, MSU's vice president for agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine and president of the MSU RTC board of directors, knows all too well. 


Bohach provided some impressive statistics to emphasize the impact of the research facilities -- the research park employs over 1,500 people with an average salary of $72,500, there are 417,000-square-feet of office and laboratory space and private investment exceeds $80 million. 


saying how great it was to hear those statistics, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker pointed to the 100 jobs the new building is creating as the key to curing the nation's unemployment woes. 


"It's great when you get a steel mill in town. It's great when a Nissan picks Mississippi," Wicker said. "But that's not how we tackle job creation in America...we create jobs at the small business level, 100 jobs at a time.  


"We do it with start-ups and affirming entrepreneurship, just as II-VI has done." 


With the wide range of technological research conducted at MSU, it's hard to imagine the university is behind when it comes to cellular devices, like smart phones and the technology that comes with them. 


And U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper said not only is MSU is far from behind, but the university and its researchers are, "on the cutting edge," especially in the app economy. According to Harper, MSU will be in an excellent position to capitalize thanks to the devotion from all levels. 


"You are leading research not just in the United States, but around the world," he said. "This is the beginning of greater days ahead." 


MSU has a successful history with business incubation, opening its first shared business space building in the late 1980s, and three more since. When David Shaw, vice president of research and economic development, spoke with the Dispatch at the beginning of September, he said it has been a catalyst in the growth at the research park and the university. 


"We always work to be sure we have space available," Shaw said. "When MDA calls and says a company is coming tomorrow, can we tour? We drop everything. We keep pristine-looking space available so they can visualize, 'Hey I can see my business in this space.'" 


Though the pristine space might have impressed II-VI Inc. and its Executive Vice President Vincent Mattera, it was something else that guaranteed the global high tech manufacturer would sign the proverbial dotted line. 


"Your support between academia and high-tech industry has long been a source of confidence that we have come to develop about our growth prospects in Mississippi and from Mississippi," Mattera said. "We can... match the talent we need with the opportunities we have to grow. 


"We evaluated several communities around the country and chose Starkville because of the strong support we received from the various government and economic development agencies." 


Mattera, like everyone else, praised that relevant research done at MSU. 


Without missing a beat, Shaw said the discussions about the next incubator have already. 


"We're already beginning discussions of what our fifth incubator building is going to look like," he said. "Our brightest days are yet to come."




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