Dr. David Shaw, MSU Credit: Mississippi State University

High-ranking officials from African country Morocco are in Mississippi this week as leaders try to work out mutual economic development and educational ventures.

Five Moroccan delegates, including the president of the country’s capital region of Rabat, have been in the state this week meeting with officials from the Mississippi Developmental Authority and Mississippi State University to mull potential economic ventures in the state and cooperative educational programs.

Two deals have been signed during the visit, state officials said. The first is an agreement between the state of Mississippi and the Marita Group of Morocco, a Moroccan-based energy and manufacturing group that is one of the world’s leading producers of cork. During the visit this week, Marita Group CEO Rahhal Boulgoute expressed to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant his desire to bring a manufacturing plant to the state.

The second deal, inked in conjunction with Mississippi State University, focuses on education and research, establishing areas of cooperation in research, agriculture, forestry, transportation and energy between the state of Mississippi and the Moroccan region of Rabat.

“This is one of the most exciting opportunities that I have seen come to the university and the state,” said David Shaw, vice president of research and economic development at Mississippi State University and member of the host delegation this week. “This will be such a strong partnership with such an impact on education and economic development.”

The visit and agreements came about after a longstanding relationship between Mississippi State and Morocco. Four years ago, Mississippi State partnered with the International University of Rabat to create a joint degree program. This year, 21 Moroccan students became the first class to finish their stint in Starkville as part of the program.

After gaining exposure through that program, Mississippi State officials began communicating with the government of Morocco. Those conversations initiated talks of economic and educational partnerships between the state and the country.

This week, the five Moroccan delegates – Boulgoute, Abdessamad Sekkal, president of the council of Rabat, Mariam Chemao, vice president of the council of Rabat, Naima Cheddadi, vice president of the council of Rabat, and Said Hajib, head of the Forestry Research Center of Morocco – visited key economic sites in Mississippi like the Nissan plant, Ingalls Shipbuilding and the Stennis Space Center.

The delegation met with Gov. Phil Bryant numerous times this week, dining at the Governor’s Mansion Monday evening. They stayed one night on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and at least one night in Starkville.

They arrived Sunday night at the Medgar Wiley-Evers International Airport and will depart Friday evening. Their transportation to and from Mississippi was paid for by the Moroccans themselves, MDA Public Relations Manager Jeff Rent said. It is unclear how much the state of Mississippi spent on the visit.

Shaw said the governor talked this week of creating a Mississippi delegation to travel to Morocco later this year. Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler said the governor has not yet traveled to the country and has not made plans, though those plans could change should an economic development opportunity pans out.

Members of the hosting delegation said the Moroccans’ visit has been “extremely positive,” and the Moroccan delegation believes the partnership with Mississippi will help bolster the country’s educational and economic standing.

“They are seeing the United States and Mississippi as a great partner that’s going to help Morocco and actually Africa, since it’s a gateway to Africa,” said Haitham El Kadiri, a Mississippi State mechanical engineering professor and native Moroccan. “They are also excited because of the ability to have this regional agreement. We are able to identify a very specific project that has a direct impact on economy and education in both (Mississippi and Rabat). From there, it could be scaled up to the whole country (of Morocco) and even the whole continent of Africa.”

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.