Cantwell: Center ‘would change Mississippi forever’

Published 7:10 pm Thursday, October 4, 2018

The development of the Mississippi Hardware building into a technical incubator and technology transfer center can have a major effect on Vicksburg and the State of Mississippi, developer Tim Cantwell said.

“That would change Mississippi forever,” said Cantwell, a developer who is involved with the project. “It would position Mississippi as a regional tech spot. I’m astounded that it hasn’t been done before.

“We need to create a culture here that’s attractive to people to come. This will change Mississippi and it will certainly change Vicksburg, and it will bring in more people. This is it; it needs to be done. There is no other place in the state where it could be done.”

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Influenced by the presence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Army’s Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, the hardware building development is expected to create a space to attract small and middle-sized businesses that could potentially work in federal-type programs.

The Mississippi Legislature during its August special session approved $2.5 million from the state’s BP settlement fund to the city of Vicksburg for the project, and the city in 2017 committed$300,00 toward the project.

One goal of the project, Cantwell said, is to help prepare state contractors to be able to compete for the $1 billion in contracts from ERDC for projects, and train people to be able to work at ERDC.

“Contracts are not going to Mississippi businesses, either because they aren’t capable or don’t know how to position themselves for work that can be done,” Cantwell said.

“It’s a similar situation with the people they want to hire. ERDC, Ergon and Entergy hire from all over the world. Why? Because the folks that are here can’t compete for those jobs. It’s not that they don’t want them; in fact, Entergy has a heck of a time retaining people.

“It would do much better if it recruited people from the contiguous counties. They would have a higher probability of staying.  ERDC has the same exact issue. There’s a whole package that needs to be put together to equip Mississippi contractors and equip Mississippi residents to be able to compete for the contracts and employment.”

He said the idea is to take ERDC’s graduate program “from behind the gate and put into downtown and blow up that existing program and make it accessible to the public,” he said. “That’s the Corps’ idea.

“The second Corps idea is to take the research and development activities ongoing at ERDC, identify the solutions they’ve come up with, and see what can be turned into a commercial product and lead to manufacturing service and capture that by having groups either under contract to ERDC or internal to ERDC.

“Put them in an environment that has graduate training going on and people who would be interested in taking some of these solutions and developing them for commercial use, so you incubate that.

That means putting their researchers in an area, not behind the gate but in the community and we change the whole environment. That’s the vision behind the Mississippi Hardware project.”

The building, he said, would be like a campus, with people working how to best leverage “the $1 billion lab that you have here and the largest nuclear power plant at Grand Gulf. I’d love to see some undergraduate studied in science, technology, engineering and math there.”

Cantwell, who said he spent his summers as a child with his grandparents in Jackson, said his stepson, who is the brewer at the Cottonwood, and his stepson’s friend, who is the restaurant’s manager both moved to Vicksburg and bought homes here.

“That’s a change, while you have a condition where a lot of folks are in a three-point stance to get out of here, and when they got to college, they’re not coming back here. They’re acting too fast. I just think you have unfound treasures in your backyard everywhere here.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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