By Stephen Singer

Daily Journal

BOONEVILLE – Federal and state officials are stepping up efforts to win support from Northeast Mississippi businesses for a stronger link between government-backed scientific research and economic development.

Research and development conducted in 700 federal laboratories nationwide are just waiting to be used by business, representatives of locally based federal agencies told about 60 business owners and managers Tuesday evening at Northeast Mississippi Junior College.

Government officials are sincere in their offer to help, said Marshall Dickerson, president of the Prentiss County Development Association Inc., which organized the meeting. “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” should no longer be a joke, he said.

Federal research – particularly in the space program – has led to developments as diverse as the health-care industry’s magnetic resonant imager (MRI) and the less-weighty Mylar balloon, said David L. Powe, manager of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s education programs.

But the bottom line is economic development, Powe said. “We’re trying to get new industry to move in, but growth in local industry is what we have got to support,” he said.

Partnerships not new

Partnerships between government and business are not new, but the effort by the Prentiss County group to bring the two parties together is a first, said Doug Mansell, the association’s executive director.

George Parsons, director of the community and economic development center at Mississippi State University, pitched two federal programs that support business research and development.

The Small Business Innovation Research program was established by Congress in 1982 to help businesses finance research and development, Parsons said. Federal officials awarded nearly 3,000 contracts between 1983 and 1993, according to NASA.

The Small Business Technology Transfer test program supports research and development for aviation, the space program and other areas. It also was designed to support groups of small businesses and research institutions. The program awards up to $100,000 for a one-year project and up to $500,000 for two years.

Interest in assistance

Interest in federal assistance to develop new technology was demonstrated by attendance at the meeting by the apparel industry, which is generally not known as a high-tech business, and the banking industry, which is a leader in automation.

Prentiss Manufacturing Co. in Booneville, a manufacturer of men’s shirts, has used computer-assisted design and manufacturing in garment design and pattern-making, company President Garry Lindsey said in a telephone interview following the meeting. In addition, cutting machines have been computerized, he said.

Deposit Guaranty Mortgage Co. is installing five automated loan machines in a test program in Jackson, said Lewis Whitfield, president of the bank in the Tupelo area.

Deposit Guaranty also is providing customers access to their banking records through their home computer, Whitfield said after the meeting. “We’re seeing more in response to customer needs rather than cost reductions,” he said.

“Having said that, we’re always interested in being efficient,” he added.

Caterpillar Inc. will consider using high-tech methods to salvage metals, said Rick Mercer, manager at the Booneville plant.

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