By: Margaret Ann Macloud
The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) was recently awarded $7 million in state funding to support infrastructure associated with the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise (RFWCOE). This appropriated money from both capital expense funds and the Mississippi Development Authority’s Gulf Coast Restoration Fund, brings the total to $21 million in appropriated monies to USM since 2019 for RFWCOE, infrastructure, and programming.
The following projects will be supported by this $7 million award:
- -Wharf and pier improvements supporting the Research Vessel (R/V) Gilbert R. Mason and two additional large research vessel slips
- -Short term pier access for support vessels
- -Infrastructure support for launch of uncrewed maritime systems
“We are thankful our legislators, the Governor, the Mississippi Port of Gulfport and the community continue to invest and support this transformational project that brings together industry, non-profit, federal and state partners to grow the blue economy in Mississippi,” said Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM’s Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations.
The 62,000 sq. ft. Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise will be located at the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport and is expected to open in April 2022. The Center is a comprehensive research and development partnership program focused on uncrewed maritime systems and blue technology innovation. The program includes access to prototype fabrication equipment, laboratories, training, and conference space and access to the 4-dimensional shallow, medium and deep-water testing range with a command-and-control center for real time mission support. NOAA, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations Uncrewed Maritime Systems headquarters will be located in the new building along with USM and other private partners.
The previous $14 million in funding awarded to USM includes program support from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) and additional infrastructure funds from the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund to support building infrastructure and site improvements. The Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport has committed $32 million in restoration funds to build the RFWCOE.
“We appreciate our great partnership with the Port of Gulfport. They have been instrumental in building infrastructure needed to support this program, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to implement the waterside improvements for the ocean enterprise program,” USM Vice President for Research Dr. Gordon Cannon said.