Tech innovation vital for Mississippi’s students

Published 2:41 pm Saturday, May 27, 2023

By Pat Fontaine
Guest Columnist

It’s graduation time, and I can’t help but think about our duty to foster the innovative potential that our students possess. Mississippi is a perfect place to do just that.

With a strong economy, dedicated workforce, and commitment to being open for business, the Magnolia state has it all. Upon graduation, students are met with many potential career paths, including in Mississippi’s burgeoning tech sector. In fact, in the past few years Mississippi has increasingly been considered a new tech hub.

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The University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi and Jackson State University are working to advance the state’s strong technology programs through the Mississippi Research Consortium. This initiative harnesses the collective strength of Mississippi’s students to set our state up for economic success in our increasingly tech-savvy world. Programs at all of our universities, colleges, community colleges and K-12 schools now focus on new skills for our students.

Much of this has been made possible thanks to homegrown American tech companies that have fostered the growth of small businesses across our state. These companies have brought multi-million-dollar investments and jobs to Mississippi. Free and accessible tools and services offered by these companies allow those with great ideas to make their ideas a reality.

In fact, small businesses that take advantage of these tools are five times more likely to reach new customers and three times more likely to experience customer growth. That’s why it’s concerning that potential legislation and pending lawsuits would target American tech companies for their success. These efforts aim to break up companies that are supporting the industries that our students rely on for a secure economic future.

Further, they open up our economy to national security threats and economic interference from foreign actors like China and TikTok. Punishing these companies would force our state economy – and, in turn, our students and future workers – to pay the price.

Instead, we should celebrate the possibilities that these companies have provided us with and speak out against policies that would work to take away these opportunities. We should lean into the future and work to provide our skilled, growing workforce with new and exciting careers.

These American companies have set the pace for creating jobs, driving investments, and sponsoring research across the country, and I’m proud that our state has taken up the call. Mississippi is contributing to the wave of American innovation that is sweeping the economy and tapping into its unique resources that advance opportunities for those entering the workforce.

What once seemed light-years away is now a reality for the next generation. It’s our job to support and nurture that.

Pat Fontaine is executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association.