The Port of Gulfport is facing criticism again for the way it's kept track of jobs under its $600 million restoration and expansion project.
But now the focus is turning to how the port is going to create – and document - the 1,300 new jobs it’s promised.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the port expansion's post-Katrina federal grant, says Mississippi failed to put in place a process for tracking the port’s retained jobs – that’s the number of jobs the port started with.
Port director Jonathan Daniels, who was hired last year, said they’ve been working to finalize that number, which was first reported as 1,286 but is now pinned at 814.
"Unfortunately it's very difficult to re-create information from 2007," he says. "Some of those people have moved from the area, some of them have passed away, there are incojmplete records with some of the groups that we've surveyed. But it's something that we're going to continue to try and accomplish as much as is possible."
In a report sent to the Mississippi Development Authority earlier this month, HUD said it considers the job retention part of the project “effectively completed." HUD says the port can meet its job goals – but it wants to see the port’s plan for documenting those jobs.
"Knowing there was a deficiency in 2007, our compliance staff has gone above and beyond, and in working hand-in-hand with MDA, to make sure that the process are in place and that we are going to be able to report those to HUD, and in a timely manner," he says.
Daniels also says he’s hired a compliance director, who will start March 1.
HUD says within 60 days it wants to see the state's plan for documenting jobs. It’s also now requiring quarterly meetings and reports, and it wants to see lease agreements. Howard Page is with the Steps Coalition.
"The additional oversight that HUD is going to require as a result of this finding is what's important," says Page. "They're now going to do quarterly reviews, and they were doing semi-annual reviews. So HUD is going to be looking a lot more carefully at the port, and they're going to need the port to show that they are indeed creating jobs with the $600 million."
The port’s board of commissioners meets today, and a lease agreement is on the agenda. At its meeting in January, the port announced its first new tenant in 15 years, a shipbuilder who will have up to 70 workers at the port.