Director of Trent Lott Center named

HATTIESBURG, MS. (THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI) – A veteran economic development researcher renowned for his expertise in community development is the new director of the Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at The University of Southern Mississippi.

Rick Duke, a principal research associate with the Enterprise Innovation/Economic Development Institute at Georgia Institute of Technology for more than 20 years, was selected by a search committee to lead the Center and the university's economic development initiatives, including serving as a liaison with industry, the community and economic developers. He assumes his duties at the university July 6.

"Connection with community is an overarching strategic interest for Southern Miss. Rick Duke brings substantial experience to this position that will stimulate community growth and create important opportunities for our graduates," said Southern Miss President Martha Saunders.

A certified economic developer and economic development finance professional, Duke has served in several professional leadership roles, including the International Economic Development Council's Board of Directors and Executive Committee; director of Georgia Tech's Basic Economic Development Course; Session I Class Director with the Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma; and as president of the Georgia Economic Developers Association.

"What is so appealing about this position at Southern Miss is the opportunity to represent a university and all that it can do to positively impact economic development," Duke said. He cited the university's strengths in research, technology and workforce development as resources it can leverage to advance economic growth in a state that shows great potential for growth and development.

Duke also envisions collaborations between the university's health care programs and the Hattiesburg and Gulf Coast medical communities as part of the economic development equation in South Mississippi, as well as Southern Miss' strong arts programs.

Duke's research on healthcare, eldercare and retirement community development in particular is highly sought in Georgia and beyond. His recent work includes acting as a catalyst for recognizing retiree attraction as a new community economic development strategy in many parts of Georgia. As co-founder of Georgia Lifestyles Publishing, a research-based organization providing information geared toward attracting retirees to Georgia, Duke is editor of "Retire in Georgia," a magazine targeting this market.

Search committee member Johnny Atherton, vice president of external affairs for Mississippi Power Company, said he looks forward to working with Duke and Southern Miss in a partnership to positively impact economic activity throughout the state.

"Mr. Duke brings an impressive resume and extensive background in economic development to this position," Atherton said. "He's a tremendous hire, and I believe will help advance the university's economic development outreach efforts in a big way."

Serving on the committee with Atherton were Dr. Lance Nail, College of Business dean; Ted Webb, president, BancorpSouth Hattiesburg; Dr. Chad Miller, assistant professor of economic and workforce development; Bill Ray, president and chief executive officer,  Asbury Foundation; and Dr. Cyndi Gaudet, director of Southern Miss' Jack and Patti Phillips Workplace Learning and Performance Institute.

Former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, the center's namesake, said Duke is the right choice to lead the Center's efforts to help Mississippi sustain long-term economic progress by training more skilled economic development professionals who can retain existing jobs and recruit new ones.

"With his vast experience and understanding of how universities are economic engines for a state, I believe Rick Duke can help the Center meet its potential as the place where the best and brightest come to learn how to lead our state to economic prosperity," Lott said.

The Trent Lott National Center houses Southern Miss' unique combination of academic programs for students and professionals looking to further their education, including a bachelor's degree in applied technology; a master's in economic development; a master's in workforce training and development; and a doctorate in human capital development.

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