Mississippi Gulf Coast Advanced Materials
It sounds like something from a science fiction movie: a material, perhaps the “skin” of an aircraft, that can mend itself or change colors or shape; clothing that can monitor the vital signs of the wearer – and even take action like applying CPR – if something goes wrong.
But such high-performance materials with heretofore unheard of qualities are now entering the realm of science fact. These new “materials by design,” created with specific characteristics in mind, are the products of the broad, multi-disciplinary field of materials science and engineering. And South Mississippi is an important player.
A nine-county region of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has the elements placing it on the leading edge of the world of tomorrow: Perhaps most importantly, it’s home to a university that’s internationally recognized for its research on high-performance materials; it’s the location of shipbuilders who use advanced materials to make the next generation of stealthy warships; and it’s where you’ll find an array of aerospace companies – including those making futuristic robot aircraft – that are always looking for the latest materials.
There are technology parks, business incubators and technology transfer offices and work force training programs, and perhaps just as important, there is plenty of room to grow just outside the urban corridor.
With a high quality of life and low cost of doing business, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been a contender for some high-profile projects in recent years as companies discover the convergence of opportunities. And that interest promises to increase, thanks to the availability of major new incentives designed to help companies that want to invest in the future of Mississippi and the Gulf Coast region. South Mississippi offers a glimpse into the world of tomorrow.
South Mississippi’s advanced materials infrastructure has just a handful of companies that are working directly with advanced materials, but it does have in place the foundation for future growth of the sector.
One of the most important reasons it’s poised for growth is the presence of a university recognized for having one of the nation’s top 10 programs in polymer science. Other educational institutions, including high schools, also have programs designed to build a cadre of professionals in the field.
Even with a relatively small core of advanced materials companies, South Mississippi is home to some of the biggest names in the chemical industry, many involved in research.
What’s more, there are industrial and technology parks that focus on chemicals and plastics, along with technology transfer offices and business incubators that are there to serve both established and emerging businesses.
Key Centers and Activities
Five centers with implications for the advanced materials sector have developed in South Mississippi: Hattiesburg, Picayune, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Pascagoula.
In Hattiesburg there’s the University of Southern Mississippi, a major researcher in advanced plastics and composites. It’s also the site of a new, developing science park, the Innovation and Commercialization Park.
In Pearl River County in the rapidly growing town of Picayune is the Picayune Industrial Park, home of two plastics operations. To the south in Hancock County’s Bay St. Louis is the Port Bienville Industrial Park, home of several chemical and plastics operations and internationally known Solvay Advanced Polymers.
In Harrison County, major composites fabrication work, primarily in shipbuilding, is conducted at Gulfport's Bernard Bayou Industrial District. Further to the east in Jackson County there are several shipbuilders that use composites, as well as major chemical operations at the Port of Pascagoula. The Moss Point Industrial and Technology Park is also targeting polymer operations.
The development of high performance materials is considered one of the most important engineering achievements of the past century, in part because they played a key role in other achievements, from space travel to computers. They’ll continue to play a role in advances is multiple industries.
South Mississippi already has in place industries that rely heavily on the development of new materials. The Navy is in the midst of building its next generation of warships that will rely on advanced composites. The armor systems that protect personnel also look towards new developments in materials to protect troops. The aerospace industry, too, is a heavy user of composites, ceramics and other high performance materials that can withstand the extreme temperatures of a rocket engine and perform brilliantly in the cold of distant space. For a look at military synergies beyond South Mississippi, see the I-10 corridor map.