Alcorn officials: Digital imaging technology could spark new

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 19, 2006

economy in Southwest Mississippi



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The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ &045; For now, Brent Bourland is the only tenant in the Alcorn State University digital technology incubator in Natchez. Bourland and Alcorn officials are sure, however, that more businesses will come.

&uot;We’re the first,&uot; Bourland said. His Image Z company is in the beginning stages and will center its work in the medical field.

&uot;We have a LAN (Local Area Network), a large server and a number of work stations,&uot; he said, describing the space in the Callon Petroleum Co.-owned building on the corner of Franklin and Wall streets.

However, for now, companies that locate in the two-storied space will have wireless Internet access and not the fiber optics network that Alcorn State is working to bring both to the Natchez location, to the school in Lorman and, ultimately, to all of southwest Mississippi.

&uot;We’re exploring the National Lambda Rail,&uot; Bourland said. It’s known as a third generation Internet that is being utilized by universities and others to do technical research. It loops around the country, goes through Baton Rouge.&uot;

Louisiana State University’s Board of Regents started the move toward the National Lambda Rail in April 2004 with a $5 million commitment to bring the optical network connectivity to Baton Rouge and other state research universities.

In the fall of 2004, Gov. Kathleen Blanco further committed $40 million over a 10-year period to the plan. With a commitment by Texas, the National Lambda Rail can bring a loop of the network from Dallas, where it already exists, to Houston and Baton Rouge and then on to Jacksonville, Fla.

Likewise, connections must be made from the fiber optics rail to bring the technology to the Lorman-Natchez area.

Optical fibers are made of glass as thin as human hair. They can transport digital information over long distances and much faster than other types of networks, perhaps 1,000 times faster.

At one end of a fiber optics network, light is sent by a laser or LED (light emitting diode). At the other end, a light-sensitive receiver captures the signal and makes the conversion back to the digital image transmitted.

Dr. Napoleon Moses, professor and dean of the School of Agriculture and Applied Science at ASU, has had digital technology on his agenda for the university for a couple of years.

&uot;We want to have the capacity in Natchez to become one of the nation’s biggest hubs for storing information,&uot; Moses said. &uot;We will be a kind of electronic file company for the world. Whatever is on paper can become digital, can be stored and can then be accessed.&uot;

Moses said digital technology is about to burst upon the U.S. business scene. &uot;We don’t want to wait for the explosion. We want to do it.&uot;

Companies already are talking to Alcorn about the incubator, Moses said. &uot;Space is available upstairs and downstairs. The Callon ownership has generously provided that space at no real cost to the university. We pay the utilities,&uot; he said. &uot;Callon believes Natchez is a wonderful place to grow and a place for others to be successful in business in digital technology.&uot;

The new technology is a strategy for creating jobs and improving livelihoods, Moses said. &uot;We see it as creating opportunities like building a Super Wal-Mart.&uot;

The incubator will serve as a kind of industrial park for companies that utilize digital technology. Getting into digital technology puts Alcorn in competition with the great technology centers of Silicone Valley, the Ivy League universities in the Northeast and the North Carolina Research Triangle, Moses said.

&uot;We’ve hired three new digital imaging engineers, and we have established a systems institute to provide research and development,&uot; he said. &uot;We’d love to attract people from Silicone Valley in California to move to Natchez, buy a historic house and bring their business.&uot;

Moses said the university is &uot;focused like a laser on digital imaging technology at Natchez. And we believe we’ll be able to give the support to anyone.&uot;

The university is looking at all sources to bring the necessary technology. &uot;We’re engaging everyone in federal and state government who can help Alcorn in its efforts to renew Main streets in southwest Mississippi.&uot;

ASU President Dr. Clinton Bristow recently met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, among others, in efforts to seek funding.

&uot;The secretary of agriculture talks about helping rural America. This is rural America,&uot; Bristow said. &uot;And in rural America, we have the opportunity to bring in new economics. We have a great opportunity to enhance our quality of life by bringing in a new fiber optics backbone.&uot;

Alcorn has created degree-granting programs in computer networking and information technology and a master of science program in computer and information sciences.

&uot;Google is working right now to scan every book in the major libraries in America, to create digital images that will be available to anyone at any time,&uot; Moses said. &uot;We want to be able to do that kind of thing, an electronic version of anything that now is on paper, and have the capacity to store it and make it accessible.&uot;