GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Leaders broke ground Monday afternoon on a project that represents a partnership between USM and the Port of Gulfport. A $10 million Marine Research Center is being built near the entrance to the port.
"Today, we're here to talk about a project that may be as important as anything we have ever done," said Port Director Jonathan Daniels, as he kicked off the celebration.
USM's new Marine Research Center will occupy a prominent spot on port property, the intersection of Highway 90 and 30th Avenue. The port agreed to partner with the university in a project that reaches beyond education.
"Not only as two state entities looking at expanding upon the blue economy, but certainly becomes a catalyst and a cornerstone for economic development, not only on the Gulf Coast, but for the State of Mississippi as a whole," said Daniels.
For USM, the new center will build upon the university's growing reputation as a leader in Gulf of Mexico research.
"And it's going to act as a gateway, anchored to the port, as we move forward in understanding the technology and science that helps us really take advantage of living on this Gulf of Mexico," said Dr. Gordon Cannon, the vice president of research at USM.
Gulfport's mayor says the new research center will blend nicely with the nearby aquarium project.
"We see it as an educational opportunity, as well as a commercial opportunity and tourism opportunity. But Southern Miss, we already have a memorandum of understanding that we're going to be working very closely with this institute," said Mayor Hewes.
Governor Bryant says this project will give South Mississippi even more ways to take advantage of the so-called "blue economy."
"It is the research portion that we must ever be responsible for. Because that gulf, that beloved ocean of ours, keeps all of this alive," said Governor Bryant.
USM leaders say the new center is perfectly positioned, near midway between USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs and its Department of Marine Sciences at Stennis Space Center. The new education building will include both lab and classroom space. Some 3,500 square feet of the facility will be dedicated to the new "ocean engineering" program at USM.