Research Park charting a new course for industry

STARKVILLE – The smell of fresh paint hung in the air as Marc McGee took a stroll recently through the new 38,700-square-foot multi-tenant building in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park.
Construction workers, painters and electricians hustled about, the buzz of power tools echoed down the corridors, and in a second-floor hallway, project superintendent Shawn Forrester, of Columbus-based West Brothers Construction, looked over plans for the three-story building off Mississippi Highway 182.
“As much as I’ve harassed you over the last year and a half, it’s really starting to look good,” McGee said to Forrester as the two shared a laugh.
Construction on the $9.3 million project began in June 2009. Tenants are scheduled to move in Dec. 1, McGee said.
The building marks only the latest chapter in the park’s ongoing success story.
Practically hidden along Highway 182, removed from Mississippi State University’s main campus, the cluster of high-tech buildings in the park are becoming a cornerstone to attracting tech companies, both inside the park and throughout the Golden Triangle. Several technology companies are expanding in the park, adding to the 1,500 jobs centered at the various buildings on the 272-acre campus.
The MSU Research and Technology Corp., a not-for-profit company organized in 1998, is spearheading construction of the energy efficient multi-tenant building with the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority and the U.S. Department of Commerce, and will occupy a portion of the first floor. McGee serves as director of the research park and Research and Technology Corp.
MSU’s Office of Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship Center also will occupy the first floor.
On the second floor, Spatial Information Solutions and nCode will occupy a majority of the space, while approximately 3,100-square-feet remains available, McGee said. Camgian Microsystems plans to expand and occupy the entire third floor.
“What we’re trying to do is provide a one-stop shop for entrepreneurship and research,” McGee said. “We’re also bringing some much-needed office space and jobs to the area.”
For Camgian, the expansion is necessary. The Starkville-based electronic systems and semiconductor company has been awarded a handful of new projects this year and plans to expand its work force, although the number of new jobs coming to the area is yet to be determined, Camgian office manager Ann Johnson said.
Camgian will move across the Thad Cochran research park from its current 7,100-square-foot facility to a new 12,000-square-foot space in the multi-tenant building. The expansion will provide Camgian staff with more than twice the amount of lab space as their present location, Johnson said.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to expand and grow,” Johnson said. “At Camgian, we’ve been working very hard and won several programs this year, so we fully expect to add a substantial number of jobs and continue to grow in the commercial sector and with government research and development.”
New research
Camgian is doing research for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Work includes an ultra-low power “system-on-a-chip” technology to improve size and endurance for systems such as unattended ground sensors, micro unmanned aerial vehicles, micro satellites and body-worn electronics. Also, it is helping with research on a multitiered intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance network for ground sensors that detect, classify and track ground targets over large areas.
It also is working on improvements over current generation wireless micro-sensor networks.
“We have a lot going on out here,” Johnson said.
Around the bend, SemiSouth Laboratories co-founder Jeff Casady sat in his office at the Silicon-Carbide chip manufacturing facility in the Powe Innovative Technology Center and talked about the company’s future.
With the pending infusion of $30 million from a California-based clean technology company, Power Integrations, SemiSouth plans to expand its work force from 74 employees to approximately 150 over the next 18 months, Casady said. About $3 million to $5 million in new equipment also will be installed over the next six to 12 months to meet production demands.
The chips are an energy-efficient, low-cost technology used in solar panels, automobiles and other products, and SemiSouth is one of only three Silicon-Carbide chip manufacturers in the world, Casady said.
“We have to rapidly increase the volume of production to keep up with the demand,” Casady said. “This is a technology that is being used more and more often.”
SemiSouth has come a long way since Casady and fellow MSU professor Mike Mazzola founded the company in 2000 with only a handful of part-time employees. By 2006, SemiSouth employed 20 to 25 people, and by the beginning of 2010 the company had roughly 50 employees, Casady said. More than 20 new employees have been hired so far this year, he said.
SemiSouth shares the Powe Innovative Technology Center in the research park with II-VI Inc., a company which specializes in engineered materials and components. II-VI Inc. plans to move to another location and free up space in the Powe building for the expansion of SemiSouth.
“It’s something you hope for, but don’t really have a lot of time to think about,” Casady said of SemiSouth’s expansion in recent years.
SemiSouth is part of a research and technology corridor which stretches from Alabama to Columbus and Starkville. Casady foresees something similar to California’s Silicon Valley.
“We expect and believe that a lot of high-tech companies should be coming out of Starkville,” Casady said.

TIM PRATT / Columbus Commercial Dispatch