BC class role touted in development

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 3, 2008

WESSON – The seven studious seniors enrolled in Bogue ChittoAttendance Center’s new Biomedical Research class are doing morethan just participating in a worldwide research effort and learningthe most advanced science in the county. They are also playing arole in economic development – and picking up a graduation creditin the process.

While presenting at the Biotech Initiative Symposium forSouthwest Mississippi Thursday at Copiah-Lincoln Community College,Better Business Bureau of Mississippi President Bill Moak said thepresence of a biomedical high school class in Southwest Mississippicould bolster the state’s efforts to recruit biotechnicalindustries by beginning to train a scientifically capable workforce.

“If [biotechnical companies] are made aware [of the class],they’re going to see a huge potential,” he said. “It’s so important- if I were looking to put a company here and needed young peopleto start out in the profession with a high level of knowledge, Iwould look to them first.”

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Moak said the development of a biotechnical industrial base ispredicted to replace the Information Age as the next great phase ofthe American economy, and he stressed the importance of the state’srole in recruiting such companies. While California leads thenation in biotechnical companies with 1,439, Mississippi ranks inthe bottom third with only 92, he said.

And almost all of the southeastern states are aggressivelyrecruiting biotechnical companies as part of their economicdevelopment strategies – particularly Florida – putting Mississippiin the middle of a very competitive effort, Moak said.

But the presence of Bogue Chitto’s Biomedical Research class,even though it is still a growing effort, can serve as a catalystin recruiting. Unlike other industries that may seek utility supplycapabilities as infrastructure, biotechnical industries’infrastructure consists of people rather than pipes, Moak said, andacademics is the most important factor.

“These companies want to go where there is an infrastructure tosupport them,” he said.

The presence of Bogue Chitto’s class also serves as a kind ofmental draw to potential biotechnical industries. A strong sense ofentrepreneurship runs through the biotechnical field, Moak said,and various companies tend to cluster together, work together andfeed off each other.

They also love to strengthen their field by helping out littlebrother projects like the Biomedical Research class.

“Mindset is key,” he said. “Every company wants to be in afriendly environment. If they’re aware that in Bogue Chitto, Miss.,there’s research-oriented education going on, they’ll want to getinvolved. And once they get involved, they’ll go to seminars andother companies and say, ‘Look what’s going on down here.'”

By the same token, the class – and a handful of others like itaround the state – also serves to strengthen the outreach of whatis perhaps Mississippi’s strongest pitch for recruitingbiotechnical industries: Jackson’s University of MississippiMedical Center.

The class was implemented at Bogue Chitto under the umbrella ofUMC’s assistance, and the university – a strongpoint of biomedicalresearch in the nation – is a great foundation for biotechnicalindustries’ propensity to cluster, Moak said.

“UMC is an internationally known center for medical resources,and using it as our center, we can capitalize on that,” Moak said.”As Dr. Ed Thompson (state health officer) said, we have a magnet,we just need to make use of it.”

Moak said the industries’ tendency to cluster usually fallswithin a 50-mile radius of the center, which would put Brookhavenin a good position to capitalize on the recruiting efforts.

Moak said the state as a whole is a also strong candidate forsuch industries – like the National Bio and Agri-Defense Facility,which is being considered for construction in Flora – because of arelatively low expense environment, the possibility of taxincentives and a good network of transportation, includinginterstates, rail lines and coastal ports.

But the biggest factor is the state’s trainable work force, hesaid, which is where endeavors like Bogue Chitto’s BiomedicalResearch class come into play.

“This is how we’re going to win this battle,” Moak said. “It’sone of those chances for us to say, ‘This is how we’re going toattack this problem.'”

Bogue Chitto Principal Bill McGehee said the fledglingBiomedical Research class, which is taught by Kathy McKone, is”here to stay.” He plans to grow the class in the coming years byopening it up to more students as the school’s curriculum istweaked.

“You can get too big too quick,” he said. “Right now, we want totake what we have started and finish it well.”

Only seven seniors are taking the class this year because ofconflicts with graduation requirements. But now that the class hasbeen implemented, more students will choose it to fulfill theircredit requirements, McGehee said.

Aside from requirements, the class is a hit among thestudents.

“The kids went out in the white lab coats, goggles and gloves togather up some fire ants for research, and the other studentscircled around them,” McGehee said. “They were asking, ‘What classis this? When do we get to take it?’ Just watching the students, Ican guarantee the continuation of the class at Bogue Chitto.”

McGehee said the class, which works in the school’s newlyrenovated laboratory, is preparing students who wish to pursue ascience education for the next level.

UMC Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and scienceprofessor Dr. Rob Rockhold, who serves as Bogue Chitto’s BiomedicalResearch liaison, said the science facilities of both Bogue Chittoand Co-Lin – which will soon begin implementing similar classesinto its curriculum – would “pass muster anywhere in thiscountry.”

“I am consistently impressed when I come down here – you are oneof the best-kept secrets in education in Mississippi,” he said.”This is a fertile landscape to grow the next crop of qualitystudents.”

Rockhold said Bogue Chitto’s class is the farthest reach UMC hashad in its work with high schools.

“It’s a sign of the degree of impact we can have outside of thecamp in Jackson,” he said.