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June 23, 2008




(JACKSON, Miss.) - A new partnership at the University of Mississippi aims to keep jobs at home by educating the nation’s future manufacturing professionals.


The university, the state of Mississippi and Toyota Motor Corp. are joining together to create the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, which will be unique in the nation in its undergraduate curriculum. The center is to offer students not only degrees in engineering with an emphasis in manufacturing but also strong cross-disciplinary studies that reflect other skills needed in engineering and the sciences, such as business, management, accounting, leadership and human resources.


The $22 million center is being funded through part of a state incentive package that helped attract Toyota to Blue Springs, where the company is building a $1.3 billion automotive manufacturing plant. When production begins in 2010, the plant is expected to employ about 2,000 workers to build the popular Highlander sport utility vehicle.


“This center will be a perfect blend of the academic and real-world focus so essential today for success in the multifaceted global manufacturing sector,” Gov. Haley Barbour said at a news conference announcing the center. “Under terms of the enabling legislation, the center will work closely with the state’s manufacturing companies to improve their competitiveness in all areas of manufacturing. My expectation is that students who complete this intensive program will become industry leaders in every phase of many different businesses.”


One floor of the planned 47,000-square-foot center is to house a small factory floor complete with different process lines, said James Vaughan, F.A.P. Barnard Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and associate dean of the School of Engineering. Besides classrooms, laboratories and student workspaces, the building is to have office space for the center’s new faculty members, as well as room for visiting faculty and the visiting Toyota executive-in-residence.


As a component of the center, the university is developing an emphasis program of instruction in manufacturing, slanted toward lean manufacturing applicable to all Mississippi manufacturing industries. The School of Engineering plans to offer a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in manufacturing. To provide students with fundamental lean manufacturing and production techniques, the School of Business Administration and the School of Accountancy plan to offer a minor in engineering.


“The manufacturing landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, and the university is adjusting its academic offerings to reflect that,” Chancellor Robert Khayat said. “By offering these programs related to manufacturing, we are giving our students the skills they need to keep Mississippi attractive to businesses and are preparing our students to help us meet the challenges of a global marketplace.”


The CME is thought to be one of only a few of its kind, said Dennis Cuneo, a former Toyota senior vice president and current Toyota consultant who led the team that selected the Blue Springs site.


“It will help enhance and further manufacturing excellence in Mississippi and beyond,” Cuneo said. “Automotive and nonautomotive companies will benefit from the center. I salute Governor Barbour and Chancellor Khayat for taking such a positive step to help manufacturing thrive.


“We are happy to see the state so committed to advancing manufacturing. Some people assume that the manufacturing sector is in decline and is destined to move offshore. The creation of the center shows that the manufacturing sector is vibrant and growing in Mississippi and will play an important role in the state’s economy.”


Two locally based foundations have joined the effort to prepare Mississippi students to become industry leaders. Toward the center’s creation, the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson has pledged $750,000 over the next three years, and the Mississippi Power Education Foundation has given $500,000. The Hearin Support Foundation is named for the late Jackson business leader and philanthropist. Mississippi Power is a Southern Company subsidiary that provides electricity to 190,000 customers in 23 counties in south Mississippi.


“With nearly 3,000 manufacturing firms employing 172,000 Mississippians, it’s vital that we prepare our young people for leadership careers in this sector of the economy,” said Anthony Topazi, president and chief executive officer of Mississippi Power. “From industries like automotive, chemicals and electric utilities such as Mississippi Power, there are many exciting manufacturing companies locating and growing in Mississippi, and they represent $12.9 billion of the state’s gross domestic product.


“The Center for Manufacturing Excellence fills a need for manufacturers who are seeking qualified candidates to hire. Thus, its mission will improve the lives of the people of Mississippi.”


Supporting the CME also furthers the Hearin Foundation’s mission of supporting university programs in Mississippi that prepare students for successful careers, thereby improving the state’s economy.


The Hearin gift will fund a Manufacturing Internship Program to link the university, the CME and state manufacturing firms. It is anticipated that the program will provide a gateway for the development of further relationships between the CME and the state manufacturing industry. In turn, these relationships will provide lasting benefits by helping to retain the state’s best and brightest students to contribute to Mississippi’s economic development.


A major goal of the center is to produce and connect a continuous pool of highly qualified graduates likely to be hired by manufacturers as engineers, accountants, business managers and other professionals.


“The Center for Manufacturing Excellence will be a genuinely unique institution that generates engineering graduates who understand advanced manufacturing from a process/engineering perspective and from the business, management and leadership points of view,” Vaughan said.


In addition to expanded academic opportunities, CME students are to participate in an internship or co-op work-study program to gain hands-on industrial experience.


“By the beginning of their junior year, our students will be heavily involved in responding to real manufacturing design problems,” Vaughan said. “By the end of their senior year, they should have mastered all of the skills which would make them attractive to industry both inside and outside of Mississippi.”


Though definite plans have not been finalized, university officials hope to begin enrolling students as early as fall 2009, Vaughan said. Current students as well as students who enroll this fall also will benefit from the CME.


Other goals of the center are for it to serve as a resource for research and programs related to manufacturing, to train the state’s manufacturing community and to collaborate with north Mississippi K-12 schools and community colleges.


“At the University of Mississippi, we understand that for our students to succeed in the ultra-competitive global economy, we must be deliberate about developing and aligning resources,” UM Interim Provost Morris Stocks said. “The Center for Manufacturing Excellence is a wonderful example of coordinating the resources of the university, the state and the manufacturing industry as well as generous donors such as the Hearin Foundation and Mississippi Power. Together, we can brighten the economic and academic future of our extended community.”


For more information on the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, go to http://www.olemiss.edu/cme or contact Vaughan at 662-915-2631 or [email protected]