Bristow sees Alcorn as partner with city for future of area

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The super highway may never come. Smoke stacks may be yesterday’s kind of industry. No matter, said Dr. Clinton Bristow, president of Alcorn State University. The highway of tomorrow will be electronic. The industry will be high tech. And that &045; well, that will come to Natchez, and in the not so distant future.

These days, Bristow speaks animatedly about growing partnerships between Natchez and Alcorn State and the resulting effects on quality of life and economic development in Southwest Mississippi.

One of his pet phrases, that &uot;things are percolating very well,&uot; perhaps is an understatement. Ambitious plans and the backing of the right players to make them happen are unfolding at an exciting pace, Bristow said.

Email newsletter signup

Intrigued by a comparison drawn in a June 15 Natchez Democrat article between Ashland, Ore., and Natchez, Bristow said many of the Ashland successes in the past decade arise from that city’s Southern Oregon University and from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, also based there.

&uot;What they have done is right in line with what we have been doing,&uot; he said. &uot;They have a very strong higher education institution, and they have positioned themselves for new industry a little different from smoke stack.&uot;

Further, that city has established cultural and other activities that are attractive to the community and to visitors. &uot;They have their Shakespeare festival. We have our opera festival and other attractions,&uot; he said.

Most important, however, Alcorn now is working with city, county, state and congressional leaders to establish a technology park at Natchez, anchored by cutting-edge digital imaging.

&uot;One of the hottest new industries is digital imaging,&uot; Bristow said. &uot;At Alcorn we’re committing some of our computer science resources into that area to undergird the new technology park.&uot;

Alcorn and several private companies will bring the digital imaging to the park, he said.

A site for the park has not been chosen. Natchez attorney Brent Bourland, who has worked closely with Bristow on making the technology park a reality, said land near the Natchez campus of Alcorn would be ideal, as both the nursing school and business administration school are located there.

&uot;The Alcorn MBA program will have a definite focus on technology,&uot; Bourland said. &uot;That program and the digital imaging center could utilize some of the same resources.&uot;

Bourland, a board member of the ASU School of Nursing, has followed closely the recent telemedicine projects carried out by Alcorn in partnership with the University of South Alabama. The opportunity to bring new digital imaging technology to Natchez came as a result of contacts at the Alabama university.

Accompanying Bristow to Washington, D.C., to meet with Mississippi senators and the Southwest Mississippi U.S. representative was encouraging, Bourland said.

&uot;A delegation from Alcorn and the Natchez EDA met with Sen. (Thad) Cochran, Sen. (Trent) Lott and Congressman (Chip) Pickering, and all three of the congressional delegation pledged enthusiastic support for the proposal,&uot; Bourland said. &uot;They are aware of the needs of Southwest Mississippi and pledged to do all they could to help.&uot;

Bourland said help from Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove also has been critical, as has been the expertise of Michael Ferdinand, executive director of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority.

&uot;Alcorn is a vehicle that can take us into the future,&uot; Bourland said. &uot;Dr. Bristow wants to turn Southwest Mississippi into a digital imaging data hub.&uot;

That accomplished, the results will have far-reaching effects, Bristow said.

&uot;The quality of life in Natchez and Adams County, Southwest Mississippi and neighboring Louisiana parishes will be affected in a very positive manner through Alcorn’s efforts,&uot; he said.

The new technology complex will bring in new intellectual capital, merging new talents with those already in place. &uot;We will have both a 21st-century faculty and 21st-century facilities,&uot; Bristow said.

With the new performing arts center coming in the near future, &uot;we have an opportunity not only to be a technology hub but a cultural hub as well,&uot; he said.

Other university initiatives will have a big impact on the area, including those at the nursing school to improve public health and the new biotechnology projects at the Lorman campus and development of new food products that may address health issues.

&uot;We’ve started some of the leg work to form the basis of a new economy,&uot; Bristow said. &uot;The bottom line is that we’re not going to let anyone outpace us here in Southwest Mississippi. We’re committed to making a model for the rest of the country in creating the best quality of life for our area.

&uot;The group working on the technology park is an outstanding group of leaders from Natchez and from Concordia Parish. We’re onto something, a way to rebuild our part of the state and to create new jobs for students coming out of our high schools and colleges.&uot;