Research means big business in Mississippi

MSU leads effort with more than half of all R&D expenditures in state

Let’s talk about a business in Mississippi with an annual economic impact climbing toward half a billion dollars. It’s a business employing thousands of Mississippians in communities around the state. And it’s cutting-edge: Innovative. High-tech. World-class competitive.
But here’s a little secret.

It’s not one business. In fact, it’s the research enterprise underway on the Magnolia State’s public university campuses. And in the latest reporting period to the National Science Foundation, Mississippi State University accounted for more than half of the $410.5 million of research and development expenditures by all institutions in the state.

The NSF Higher Education Research and Development Survey for fiscal year 2014 released last fall places the university’s $209.7 million of R&D expenditures at 98th nationally among public and private institutions. It is ranked 62nd among non-medical school institutions.

The report also lists the 138-year-old land-grant institution at No. 8 in the nation for research and development expenditures in agricultural sciences. MSU has ranked among the top 10 in this category for 17 consecutive years, spending $99 million in agriculture-related research in FY 2014.
Engineering disciplines, social sciences and the humanities also saw impressive rankings.

The survey is the primary source of information about research and development expenditures at U.S. colleges and universities.
The R&D funding comes from a wide range of sources, including business and industry, trade groups, and local governments, state offices and federal agencies, including the USDA, National Institutes of Health, Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, NSF and the Department of Defense, to name a few.

Behind the numbers

Of course, the economic impact of research at Mississippi State is about more than these numbers.

Driving these significant R&D expenditures are talented faculty, staff and students, along with a commitment from administrators to enhance existing infrastructure and invest in new resources.

It’s that expertise and the capabilities that companies need to compete in a global, knowledge and innovation-fueled economy.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and its Commission on Innovation, Competitiveness and Economic Prosperity have recognized Mississippi State as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University for working to advance engagement and economic well-being of the state, region and nation. It is the only university in Mississippi to hold the prestigious designation, which requires an intensive review process.

“I meet with people almost every week who are thinking about expanding, opening or relocating a business to Mississippi, and our research is frequently a difference-maker in closing the deal,” said Kathy Gelston, the university’s associate vice president for corporate engagement and economic development and a Mississippi State accounting alumna.

She works closely with economic developers, including the state’s lead agency, the Mississippi Development Authority, and its executive director—MSU agricultural economics alumnus Glenn McCullough.

MDA works to connect companies with university partners, and features the state’s research capabilities in its outreach efforts, including a robust social media presence. Additionally, Mississippi Public Universities joined with MDA, the Mississippi Research Consortium, the Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Economic Development Council to launch the Mississippi Business Engagement Network, a program designed to develop, grow and sustain collaborative relationships between the business community and the university system.

“We are committed to working with all of our partners to create new economic opportunities and help businesses prosper,” Gelston explained.
“And of course, the university has a long history of working with national and international agribusiness leaders, and reaching businesses and individual entrepreneurs throughout the state with the MSU Extension Service,” Gelston added.

MSU also offers a number of resources that facilitate relationships between faculty and staff and companies, including the MSU Research and Technology Corporation, Sponsored Programs Administration and the Office of Technology Management.

Building on land-grant legacy

The university’s economic development priority is to strengthen collaborations between the university, economic development organizations and businesses to create high-wage jobs and to leverage its robust research activities through increasing licensing agreements and building other profitable relationships with both existing industries and university startup companies, according to MSU’s chief research officer.

“We are in the unique position of helping further transform the state’s economy as technology becomes the catalyst for discovery and production in everything from agriculture to aerospace,” said David Shaw, Mississippi State vice president for research and economic development.
“The world is always changing, but even in the 21st Century, we are able to stay true to our land-grant mission of teaching, research and service that makes a difference here at home and around the world,” Shaw said.

Since the late 1990s, the university has worked closely with local, state and federal officials to help recruit industries and domestic and international investments to the Magnolia State, including Nissan, Toyota and Yokohoma Tire, as well as PACCAR and GE-Aviation, among others.
Moving forward, Shaw anticipates the university’s role becoming more important as the state’s economy grows—in large part because of its preeminence in critical research focus areas like cybersecurity, unmanned aircraft systems, agriculture and natural resources, engineering and materials science, and more.

“Research at Mississippi State is an economic development success story, and all of us—students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends—should be very proud of these contributions,” Shaw said.

The university and its researchers have worked closely with a wide range of businesses in the state. A few representative examples include:

The Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems on the Starkville campus and the CAVS Extension Office in Canton saw their start when Nissan decided to build an automobile assembly plant in Madison County. Since that beginning, CAVS and CAVS Extension have flourished and now work with a variety of industrial clients developing superior computational, engineering, manufacturing, design and information technologies, and unique workforce training solutions.

Mississippi State played an instrumental role in Yokohoma Tire’s selection of the Golden Triangle for its new $300-million manufacturing facility, which opened in Clay County last fall. The university's advanced supercomputing resources and outstanding engineering graduates were key factors. Officials expect the relationship between the manufacturer and state’s leading university to grow as the company expands in the coming years.

The Raspet Flight Research Laboratory has served as a start-up facility for various aerospace companies in the state providing workspace, technical training, and assistance with product development and research over the past decade. These efforts and Mississippi State researchers’ expertise have helped companies such as American Eurocopter, Aurora Flight Science and Stark Aerospace establish bases in Mississippi, bringing more than 700 high-tech jobs to the state.

The National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, known as NSPARC, worked with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to develop a real-time system that connects available jobs with job seekers through three entry points: MDES online employment system, Jobs for Mississippi Graduates website, and the Mississippi Works portal and mobile app. The Mississippi Works system is a prime example of using “big data” to create “smart data” that can be used for economic growth and to connect people to services that increase their ability to secure a job, build a career or advance their education.

In January, HORNE Cyber Solutions became the latest business to locate in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park. A subsidiary of HORNE LLP, Cyber Solutions was established with the firm’s recent acquisition of Halberd Group, which was founded by three Mississippi State graduates—Wesley McGrew, Kendall Blaylock and Brad Fuller—who are now part of the HORNE team.

By Jim Laird | Photo by Megan Bean