Gazebo Gazette

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has been named one of 60 national finalists – and the only finalist in Mississippi – for the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) $1 billion American Rescue Plan program.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo announced the finalists for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge – the marquee of EDA’s American Rescue Plan programs – that aims to boost economic pandemic recovery and rebuild American communities.

The 60 finalists – each a coalition of partnering entities – have proposed projects that will develop or scale industry sectors, develop and train the workforce of today, and build resilient economies.

The Gulf Blue Initiative (GBI) coalition; led by USM, aims to drive economic growth through innovation and the knowledge-based blue economy in the coastal Mississippi region. The GBI is focused on an industry-driven approach to grow the region’s blue economy innovation sector and the opportunity to create high-wage jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and light manufacturing.

The GBI proposes to bring together coalition partners to diversify the local coastal Mississippi economy from primarily tourism to:

  • grow the region’s blue economy assets,
  • establish a foundation for workforce development and sustainable job growth promoting higher-wage jobs and inclusion, and
  • build capacity to support a more resilient regional economy.

“This announcement is a great win for Mississippi. It affirms that our collective work among our coalition and partners is rapidly transitioning the region toward a knowledge-based economy. This Phase 1 award provides technical support to finalize a detailed plan for the Phase 2 request due in March. We have to stay focused on positioning Gulf Blue as the ‘go-to’ location for the innovation-sector of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr. Shannon Campbell, USM Senior Associate Vice President for Coastal Operations.

The GBI coalition is comprised of The University of Southern Mississippi (coalition lead); Jackson State University; Mississippi Development Authority; Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport; South Mississippi Planning and Development District; Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College; Pearl River Community College; Mississippi Enterprise for Technology, Inc.; and The University of Southern Mississippi Research Foundation.

Additionally, other partners including private-sector companies, municipalities, Mississippi Research Consortium, and Governor Reeves’ newly established Office of Workforce Development are helping build the Gulf Blue regional network.

Finalists were selected from a pool of 529 applicants from all 50 states and five territories. Each finalist will receive a grant of approximately $500,000 to further develop proposed projects.

According to the EDA, the $500,000 Phase 1 grants will allow finalists to take their proposed projects to the next level.

“The Build Back Better Regional Challenge aims to supercharge local economies and increase American competitiveness around the globe,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “The outpouring of interest in this program shows the demand for the Build Back Better agenda and the desire to not only create good-paying jobs, but also strengthen our country’s economic resiliency for years down the road.”

The 60 finalists will now work to build out their plans to compete for Phase 2 of the challenge. At the end of Phase 2, EDA will award 20-30 regional coalitions between $25 and $100 million each to implement three to eight projects that support an industry sector. The deadline for Phase 2 is March 15, 2022.