Wicker Celebrates Quantum Leap in Blue Economy

Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise Opened This Month

October 23, 2023

This month, Mississippi leaders kicked off a major effort to maximize our Blue Economy. I joined members of local, state, and federal government, the military, higher education, and private industry to celebrate the opening of a new research hub at the Port of Gulfport. This facility is one of several recent developments along the port, and together they represent a quantum leap in our state’s ocean commerce.

The Gulf of Mexico has always been a part of our history. Gulfport itself was founded by William Hardy, a man who tapped into the region’s potential by connecting lumber yards to the port through the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad. Since then, Mississippi industry has relied on our waterways.

Wicker Legislation Brings Innovators Together

In the past decade, the armed forces, entrepreneurs, and scholars all recognized that technology like enhanced maritime systems are the future of this ocean economy. It was clear that new equipment would benefit our armed forces, weather forecasters, fishermen, and more. It was also clear that Mississippi was the best place to build and test these systems.

Mississippi is known for its business-friendly environment and its natural resources. In the years after Hurricane Katrina, a number of visionary rebuilding projects have taken our coastal infrastructure to the next level. These factors have encouraged military installations, private defense industry, and maritime researchers in our state to engage in forward-thinking work on advanced ocean machinery.

When they began these endeavors, military, academic, and commercial leaders developed this technology independently. In 2018, I introduced legislation to encourage these innovators to combine forces. The bill, called the Commercial Engagement through Ocean Technology, or CENOTE, Act, has been successful in bringing these sectors together. CENOTE’s relatively quick implementation sent a clear message: Mississippi is open for business.

Attracting More Innovation to the Gulf Coast

The Center will provide a purpose-built hub with turn-key research space to support the vision of that bill. It will house experts on the cutting edge of maritime studies. The technology they create will help our commercial and military ships navigate the oceans. Many of their systems can travel in waters unsafe for our troops, and they can sail close to hurricanes, taking readings that will improve our storm response. Our fisherman can more readily monitor inventory and help track illegal fishing. The oil and gas industry can use these systems to monitor their rigs and reduce chances of devastating spills.

Creating this technology at home in Mississippi creates a cycle of growth. Investment attracts more investment. For example, we also celebrated the opening of Ocean Aero’s headquarters this month. This sea drone vessel company moved from California because they recognized that Mississippi is now the best place to develop their technology. They bought unused land at the Port of Gulfport, and there is room for more. We will keep working to bring more companies like Ocean Aero to our state.

The University of Southern Mississippi and the Port of Gulfport honored me by adding my name to the new facility. There are dozens of others who deserve equal credit. In the years to come, I will continue to work with them to benefit our Blue Economy.

Some say we know the surface of the moon better than we know the sea floor. These tools will help us probe the mysteries of the ocean, the earth’s last frontier. We cannot predict all the discoveries these cutting-edge maritime systems will uncover. But we can guarantee that the research we conduct will be something to remember.