Mississippi News

Hall: Transforming Mississippi through a national defense economic development strategy

Photo: State Rep. Rodney Hall (R-Southaven)

By State Rep. Rodney Hall

Senator Roger Wicker’s “21st Century Peace Through Strength” initiative is more than a strategic vision for enhancing our national defense; it is an unprecedented opportunity for states like Mississippi to contribute to national security while simultaneously driving our own economic growth. 

Wicker’s plan emphasizes the need for increased defense spending to counter threats from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other adversaries. He proposes raising the defense budget to 5% of GDP, starting with a $55 billion increase in fiscal year 2025. Wicker also calls for modernizing and maintaining military equipment and infrastructure to address modern threats. While substantial, this investment is crucial to prevent the far greater costs of potential conflicts reaching our borders. 

As the Vice Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and an Infantry Officer in the Mississippi Army National Guard, I support Senator Wicker’s assessment and vision for defending the homeland – I also see the opportunity for Mississippi to develop into a leader in defending freedom.

Mississippi is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this initiative, and by leveraging our state’s legislative authority, we can spearhead transformative efforts that will not only bolster our national security but also drive significant economic prosperity. 

I propose several strategic initiatives that have the potential to transform Mississippi’s economic landscape: 

1. Establish Mississippi Research Parks:

The “Peace Through Strength” initiative emphasizes the importance of proper investment management to field new technologies at scale. In line with this, we should establish research parks around our National Guard installations at Camp McCain and Camp Shelby. These parks would serve as innovation hubs, fostering partnerships between defense-focused companies, the Mississippi National Guard, and our research universities. By leveraging these public-private partnerships, we can create a thriving ecosystem for developing and rapidly deploying cutting-edge technologies. 

2. Incentivize Defense Startups:

There is a critical need to grow the middle of our defense industrial base between small businesses and prime contractors. The Mississippi legislature should enact policies that incentivize and support startups focused on defense technologies. Coalescing around students and universities currently working within this domain, new business tech incubators and our research parks will provide the support needed for our top talent to develop their technology in-state. This will reduce the brain-drain epidemic and generate tangible, long-lasting economic growth within the state. Furthermore, institutions like the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, which have already developed commercially successful startups, and the established Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg have already created the infrastructure to support these initiatives. 

3. Create New Talent Pipelines:

Mississippi’s future prosperity is closely tied to the success of our youth. Drawing from my journey from a JROTC student in the Mississippi Public School system to an Army field grade officer, I recognize the importance of nurturing young talent. The JROTC Promise Grant, a bill I authored, aims to create educational pathways for JROTC High School students to attend our community colleges, fostering leadership and a commitment to defending freedoms. Additionally, my proposed Mississippi Research and Development program will support our entrepreneurial students by providing resources to bring their innovative ideas to market. These initiatives will help cultivate the next generation of leaders and innovators, ensuring a brighter future for Mississippi. 

4. Bolster Advanced Manufacturing:

It is unacceptable that only one U.S. company can build cruise missile engines at scale while key components become increasingly obsolete. Mississippi possesses the intellectual capital and manufacturing capabilities to fill these voids. We can establish facilities to produce these essential components and strengthen our defense infrastructure by legislating support for feasibility studies and subsequent investments.

5. Enhance Counter-UAS Capabilities:

Rapid growth has occurred in the counter-UAS innovation space. Mississippi is already a leader in this field with companies like WISPR, founded in Batesville, and the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University, the leading institution for the FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS Research. By legislating support for partnerships between these entities, the Mississippi National Guard, and the Department of Defense, we can drive significant advancements in UAS and counter-UAS technologies. 

6. Support Core Defense Industrial Base Investments:

We must call for specified investments in critical areas such as solid rocket motors, critical munitions subcomponents, hypersonics, biomanufacturing, and microelectronics. The Mississippi legislature can support these initiatives by ensuring that local companies in these domains receive the necessary policy support to scale their operations. Companies like Delta Dry, a leader in critical chemicals used by the Department of Defense in Leland, Mississippi, exemplify the potential for growth and economic revitalization in the Mississippi Delta region. 

Senator Wicker’s “21st Century Peace Through Strength” strategy provides a comprehensive framework for enhancing our national defense – Mississippi should support this while simultaneously fostering economic development at home. By leveraging the authority and creativity of the Mississippi legislature, we can bolster strategic initiatives that capitalize on our state’s unique strengths—our entrepreneurial spirit, skilled workforce, and research capabilities.

Mississippi stands poised to play a pivotal role in this national endeavor, ensuring that our state contributes to national security and emerges as a beacon of economic opportunity and innovation. We can build a stronger, more prosperous Mississippi through dedicated action and strategic investments while defending our nation with unwavering patriotism and ingenuity.

Note: This article is presented and written by state Rep. Rodney Hall (R-Southaven). Any opinions expressed are that of the writer and not necessarily that of this publication.  

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