GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Legislators came together Friday to break ground at the Port of Gulfport and celebrate a new frontier in science and technology.
A dream seven years in the making is coming to life with the groundbreaking of the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise.
The University of Southern Mississippi partnered with state, federal and private agencies to design the center. It is slated to boost the Gulf Coast’s blue economy through the development of advanced engineering and maritime technology.
“It’s going to make the Gulf Coast of Mississippi a more attractive place for scientists, for people involved with technology to come here to live and work," Sen. Roger Wicker said.
The U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will have programs based out of the new center. Their work will support ocean exploration, data collection, building and testing unmanned vessels, and more.
“We use science and technology to pull out important data, to map the sea floor and charts for our sea ports and have all the ocean commerce really thrive and do it safely,” said Timothy Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for NOAA.
“This is a huge collaboration, and this is what it’s supposed to be about, us working in D.C., working in Jackson, working in the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Congressman Steven Palazzo.
Experts say the focus on STEM will bring more scientists and scholars to the Gulf Coast.
“We’re really looking forward to the next generation of students that will come out of this and carry this thing forward,” said Monty Graham, associate vice president for research at USM.
The goal is to place Mississippi at the forefront of the ocean technology sector.
“It’s cutting edge, and it’s going to make us so much more ready to be an even more important part of this blue economy,” Wicker said.
The construction process is set to begin in late January 2020.