On Nov. 8, 2019, Gov. Phil Bryant along with U.S. Senator Roger Wicker and U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo, in conjunction with the Mississippi State Port Authority (MSPA) and The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), celebrated the groundbreaking of the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise located at the Port of Gulfport. The facility will serve as the centerpiece of research and development in the Gulf, further establishing the initiatives of the Governor’s Ocean Task Force and creating a unique maritime technology environment on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“The Center for Ocean Enterprise is the culmination of work by the Governor’s Ocean Task Force, our congressional delegation as well as our academic and state partners. This facility will serve as a hub for research and innovation that will bolster our Blue Economy and help in the protection of our country for decades to come,” said Governor Phil Bryant.
By connecting our major research universities, federal partners and private companies, the Governor’s Ocean Task Force has been able to develop a roadmap that will build new capacity for Mississippi’s Blue Economy.
“When completed, this new facility will be a strong asset for the growing Blue Economy in our state,” Senator Wicker said. “With a brand new hub for research and development and expansive testing opportunities available nearby, oceanographers, engineers, and academics on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast will be able to translate cutting-edge research into real-world innovations at a rapid pace.”
The Center’s location at the Port allows maritime operations to have immediate, private, and highly secure access to the ocean for testing once technology is developed.
“As a co-author of the important Commercial Engagement through Ocean Technology (CENOTE) legislation, I am proud to see we are making great strides in developing public-private partnerships that will expand new unmanned technologies in the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean Enterprise will serve as a hub for research and economic development in south Mississippi,” said Congressman Palazzo, co-chairman of Governor Bryant’s Ocean Task Force.
The Ocean Enterprise will open the door for further investments in high-end engineering and advanced technology development. Given the success and strategic location of the Marine Research Center at the Port of Gulfport, USM has expressed a desire to expand its current operations at the Port.
“I could not be more excited about the opportunity for The University of Southern Mississippi to continue investing in the education, research, and economic needs of our coastal community,” said University President Rodney D. Bennett. “I am so proud that USM continues to be a leader in this important work, as we remain committed to providing transformative academic and research programs that advance our growing Blue Economy.
The facility will be a regional engineering and development center and co-located with an innovation and commercialization center to support maritime systems and platforms for ocean exploration, forecasting, and data collection.
“Following the work of the Governor’s Ocean Task Force, USM saw a need for a direct connection between The University, federal agencies and industry to create an ecosystem of innovation. The Mississippi coast is seeing something that no other institution, no other region, has developed. It’s definitely getting national and international attention as an example of breaking through traditional barriers to public-private partnerships in STEM innovation,” said Dr. Monty Graham, the director of USM Gulf Coast Research Labortory.
The Center for Ocean Enterprise will encompass nearly 62,000sq. ft. and will be located near the Port of Gulfport’s North Harbor site. The proximity to the water for vessel access, maintenance, and testing was a critical component of site selection. The building will include administrative offices, classrooms, laboratories and storage areas.
“The Mississippi State Port Authority is proud to play such a significant role in the development of Mississippi’s Blue Economy,” said Port of Gulfport Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Daniels. “From serving as homeport for the R/V Point Sur, to the Marine Research Center and now the Center for Ocean Enterprise, our partnership with USM allows Gulfport to become the epicenter for oceanographic maritime systems.”
Eley Guild Hardy Architects of Biloxi is overseeing the design and construction. The bid package for construction is set to go out in late January 2020 with an anticipated completion in 2022.