GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - A Mississippi Gulf Coast port has fewer maritime jobs now than it did before a $570 million restoration and expansion project funded by a federal grant.
But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says the state is complying with job-creation requirements. The Sun Herald reports Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is calling the project a success.
Mississippi Development Authority pledged to create 1,300 full-time maritime jobs at the Port of Gulfport in exchange for money HUD provided for economic development after Hurricane Katrina, which struck in 2005 and damaged the port.
HUD had long questioned whether the port was meeting job goals, but said in a June 25 letter to MDA Executive Director Glenn McCullough that the concerns have been satisfied.
"I am very pleased that HUD has reached this conclusion after a thorough compliance review," Bryant said in a news release Friday. "This is an important milestone that shows the economic strength of the Port of Gulfport restoration project."
A HUD report attached to the letter shows how the port satisfied HUD's critical finding on jobs, issued in 2013.
The federal agency allowed the port to begin counting jobs Island View Casino Resort added with its own investment in a new hotel tower on port property south of U.S. 90. When the hotel jobs turned out to be too few, HUD showed the state how to recalculate the numbers so part-time hotel jobs could be converted to full-time positions based on hours worked.
The state counts 1,167 jobs at the casino hotel, bringing the total of jobs created to almost 1,500. HUD estimates 94% to 96% of the hotel jobs pay low to moderate wages.
The number of higher-paying maritime jobs the port created totals only 262, which adds up to a project cost of almost $2.2 million per job.
Counting jobs that existed before the construction project started in 2008, the port has a net loss of maritime jobs. The port said at the end of March that it had retained 814 of the 1,286 maritime jobs counted in 2007.
Howard Page, a board member with the North Gulfport Community Land Trust, criticizes the state for counting low-paying, part-time jobs.
"We were promised full-time, high-paying, good benefit jobs," Page said. "That's the maritime jobs. The only way they were able to satisfy HUD - and I'm stunned that they satisfied HUD - was to count these low-paying, part-time, non-maritime jobs."
Page said of job counting method: "It was a bait and switch."
HUD also considered a port economic impact study published by Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government. The June report values the annual economic output of the port's maritime activities at $425 million. It also mentions setbacks that explain decreased maritime employment. HUD said those include the Great Recession, the 2010 BP oil spill, automation, and changes and consolidations in both the industry and supply chain.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com.