By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Rick Duke is the University of Mississippi’s first director of economic development.
“Ultimately, our work results in two things – the enhancement of standard of living … and the enhancement of quality of life,” said the Atlanta-area native, who held similar roles at Georgia Tech University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
“More and more, companies have come into the knowledge era, and they are interested in access to human capital and knowledge and innovation as a means of being internationally competitive,” said Duke, who came to Oxford with his wife last fall. “What better place do we have a critical mass of knowledge than on college and university campuses?”
Duke is based in the Innovation Hub, the first building in the university’s Insight Park. Recruiting potential tenants for that research park is one of his roles.
“The research park is about 100 acres, starting at the traffic circle here and going all the way down Insight Park Avenue down to West Jackson Avenue,” he said. “We have other sites where private-sector firms can locate, conduct collaborative research with our researchers, allow students to work at the businesses and then, hopefully, employ graduates of the university and have a long-term relationship with Ole Miss.”
While businesses of many kinds are welcome at Insight Park, a special emphasis will be on pharmaceuticals based on natural products.
“Our target will play off one of the principal strengths of Ole Miss – biopharmacy,” Duke said. “That’s a target that we have developed in concert with the Oxford-Lafayette Economic Development Foundation and the Mississippi Development Authority.”
Duke and his wife, the parents of two grown sons, also published a magazine, “Retire in Georgia,” which further honed his appreciation of communities with high quality of life.
Duke said Ole Miss and Oxford and their one-hour-away proximity to Memphis’ airport and amenities constitute an “easy sell” for recruiting new residents and new businesses.
“It’s not that we’re trying to hide blemishes; we don’t have that kind of community,” he said. “If I look at (Insight Park) and the campus and Oxford and Lafayette County, I see so many strengths.”