JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – A water crisis, infrastructure issues, crime. Critics ask: who would want to risk investing in Mississippi’s capital city?
As first reported four years ago, a Jackson native and very successful computer engineer is taking the risk to implement her vision of creating a hub of technology here.
Now, there is new information to share about Dr. Nashlie Sephus and her “Code to Success.”
Dr. Nashlie Sephus said, ”Why not Jackson? You know, we’re not that much different than the next people. We do have some things to work out as far as infrastructure.”
That’s the response you will get from Sephus when it comes to her vision to build a multi-purpose technical district, or tech-hub, in the capital city.
So, what exactly is a tech hub?
It is a “community that promotes innovation for technology-based companies”; a place where technology, talent, investors, educators, and companies can thrive. Sephus is not deterred by the challenges of getting such a development going in Jackson.
”And we’ll just focus on putting one foot in front of the other as we try to, you know, stay the course in this long term, five-year-plus project. One thing that’s different about me is that I learned a lot from people. And then, historically, I know how to do a lot with very little,” said Sephus.
Evidence of that is the Bean Path “makerspace” building our interview was conducted in.
Raising over a million dollars through philanthropy, there is no debt for this structure. And now, with the help of fellow Jacksonian, Michael Lewis, a real estate broker, Sephus has secured 7 more acres, adding to the 12 blocks that already make up the Jackson Tech District.
Twelve blocks that were once neglected, abandoned buildings with overgrown weeds in darkness at night. Now, it’s well lit at night.
Michael Lewis said, ”This is the first acquisition of raw land. So seven acres total, heavily wooded, but it’s perfect for parks or development; keeps some mature trees in the footprint.”
That brings the Jackson Tech District’s footprint to 21 acres. A number of factors, including pandemic-induced higher prices for goods and services, have driven up the cost of her vision from a projected 25-million, to a now more than 150-million dollar venture.
Sephus said, ”And so, yes, the numbers are gonna keep going up. But we’re gonna continue to add value to the project and to the people in the surroundings. We have more funding partners. We will soon announce that plus more LOIs coming in place; interested parties who want to occupy these spaces and I think you’ll be very pleased with what we’ve done thus far once you see what’s happening.”
That can be done. No doubt about it,” said Richard McNeel.
McNeel, a Jackson architect, is a believer in Sephus’ vision, particularly the location of the Jackson Tech District. He said he has seen examples of this type of development become highly successful in places like his native Atlanta and, more recently, Denver, Colorado.
Richard McNeel said, ”This incredible area right now in Denver, Colorado, like Atlanta, grew this light rail system on the existing railroad lines. Well, is there a potential for Canton and Flora to be connected back into downtown Jackson using the same idea? And the answer is yes. And where would that stop? Right next to Dr. Sephus’ development, which is, you know, close to Jackson State. So from an economic development perspective, she’s really got a great location.”
McNeel shared some of his design plans for the district. Some of the existing buildings will be transformed into shopping space, residences, learning centers and more.
McNeel said, ”She’s obviously a very smart, very wise individual… She wants to do something in our community and help bring all these things together in this community is really a blessing for us. Because she could just walk away. I don’t care if that’s your problem. But she’s engaged. And she has other people on her team that are engaged with her.”
Michael Lewis said, ”I’m passionate about the business, for sure. But I’m really more passionate about what they plan to do for the children in Jackson. They just recently wrapped up a summer camp. These children had robotics, they were doing 3-D models for architecture. And just seeing what type of launching pad this will create for them. I’m excited to see.”
So, has a 36-year-old Jackson native and successful computer engineer cracked the code to success in the capital city? Time will tell.
The Bean Path will celebrate its fourth anniversary next month. On October 8, the festivities begin at noon to 3:30 pm in the new Makerspace on the JXN Tech District grounds at 451 North Gallatin Street in Jackson.
There will be freebies and refreshments.
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