A new study looking at Mississippi’s maritime industries spotlights the importance of shipbuilding, fishing, oceanography and marine technology as a dominant force in the state’s economy. The data show that in the three coastal counties, about 51,000 people–that is more than one in every three people in the regional workforce–are employed in the blue industries.

And it’s not just the Mississippi Gulf Coast that has a stake in the blue economy.

The Mississippi River and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway also connect the state to the global maritime economy. And the state’s infrastructure includes 15 ports, including two deep draft ones in Gulfport and Pascagoula.Their study, called Mississippi’s Blue Economy: An Analysis of Mississippi’s Maritime Industry, looked at employment and other data on shipbuilding and fishing, considered Mississippi’s traditional maritime industries, as well as industries such as construction that have maritime and non-maritime activities. It also included maritime technology or “blue tech” companies.

Ashley Edwards, Susan Veglia and Kevin Buckley compiled the study as part of the Masters of Economic Development Program at the University of Southern Mississippi. Edwards is executive director of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission and Veglia is the commission’s community development director. Buckley is a USM student.

“In the process of compiling the data, we really gained a better understanding of where we need to go next,” Edwards said.

One recommendation calls for the coastal counties to target oil, gas and energy production industries and supporting services. Another said the state should create incentives to lure maritime industries and cooperate with neighboring states to bring synergy to the economic development activities.

The authors also said there is a need to study the state’s blue economy further and to help the regional marine industries science and technology “cluster” expand.

“We have a high concentration, or cluster, of oceanographers, marine scientists and engineers working in maritime-related industries,” Edwards said. “We think the next step will be to capitalize on their maritime successes and seek ways to expand maritime opportunities here.”

One challenge the researchers discovered was the blue economy, unlike the manufacturing and agricultural economies, is not centralized or coordinated.

“The lack of this infrastructure has prevented Mississippi’s Blue Economy from capitalizing on the opportunities inherent in cluster-based development,” the report said. “If Mississippi’s Blue Economy is to reach its fullest potential, leaders throughout the public and private spectrum should begin to treat it as the critical mass it is, finding competitive success through coordination and interaction designed to increase productivity, spur synergistic innovation and encourage comprehensive business growth.”

Laurie Jugan, project coordinator for the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology at Stennis Space Center, said the study confirms an expansive amount of marine science and technology work being done by organizations located along the Mississippi Coast.  “Until now, there was no way to quantify the importance of this industry sector in our area,” she said. “With the USM study, we now have a place to start.”

The Small Business Administration awarded MSET a competitive $523,742 grant based on the study’s findings. “We’ll be able to focus support around the world-class marine technology research taking place at the Stennis Space Center – which has the highest concentration of oceanographers in the world – and the nearby federal, state and university partners already working in the field,” Jugan said. “We will be able to better understand where the industry needs additional support to expand and begin growing our Blue Technology sector.”

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