ERDC expansion a 2016 top story

Published 10:23 am Thursday, December 29, 2016

Just one year after taking command of the U.S. Army’s Engineering Research and Development Center’s Col. Bryan Green presented Vicksburg with a plan to hire 800 more people over five years for the Army’s premier research center and a call to local business leaders to start building homes.

That news made The Vicksburg Post’s top 10 stories of 2016.

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“ERDC is about to go through another heyday,” Green told a group of local officials, business leaders, bankers, real estate developers and building contractors during an October meeting at the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce. “It’s got to be a profit-based decision. I’m trying to hopefully give you the demographics so both you and your banker and your investors will look and say, ‘Look, here’s an opportunity here, 800 new people.’

“Find a way,” Green continued, challenging community leaders. “You’re bringing in a 2 percent increase in the population, and that’s just the one person, I’m not counting the families and that’s not going to include (government) contractors (working for ERDC).”

Green’s announcement and his call for housing comes as ERDC is beginning to make its own changes.

A new, 140,419 square-foot headquarters building is expected to be completed by July 2017 and will include a centrally located 6,100 square-foot atrium, 4,500 square feet of classroom space, a 500-seat auditorium, a 100-seat conference room, a 50-seat video/teleconferencing room, and a 6,350-square-foot archival library.

The building will house ERDC’s major command staff division and executive offices under the same roof for the first time, and the offices of health services, safety, security, equal employment opportunity, contracting, internal review, the director of public works, public affairs and resource management and the office of counsel.

ERDC, Green said, presently has a payroll of almost $200 million, with $89 million going out to contractors and students. About $2 billion in research activities for the nation are done through ERDC, with $1 billion of that done in-house by scientists and researchers who turn them into experiments and projects.

The center puts out about $790 million in research contracts annually nationwide, with about $24 million of that going to Mississippi companies and five universities in the state.

“That’s something I want to change,” Green said.

The reason for the lack of in-state contractors having so small a piece of the pie, he said, “I think it’s because we don’t communicate well enough the opportunities right there at ERDC to be one of the centers of gravity of commerce in the town. The more (work) stays in the state, the stronger the state gets; the more the state becomes a tech base for the country.”

Green said he wants ERDC to go to an open campus system once the new headquarters are built to encourage more public access to the center and to encourage development of a research park to encourage local entrepreneurs to work with ERDC.

“There’s always been a partnership with the community,” Green said. “(But) Sept. 11 changed the conversation we had in this town. We put the fence up, and at that point we kind of slid off the face of the Vicksburg landscape.

“Our folks are still out in the community, our kids still go to school here, but in some ways, we kind of lost track of what ERDC does, and in some ways, it got harder for us to communicate and share our capabilities, and we’re trying to change that.”