The Port of Gulfport says its $570 million post-Katrina expansion will be complete next year. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, that gives it until 2019 to meet its goal of creating 1,300 new jobs.
Executive director Jonathan Daniels, who took the helm of the port 2 years ago, says he’s confident the port will meet or even exceed that jobs goal. It's currently created 98 permanent jobs - but, Daniels notes, that’s even before the new terminal is online.
"So we've brought some customers in that can take advantage of our existing facilities, grow as the terminal grows," he says.
During Daniels tenure, the port has brought in a number of new tenants, including a shipbuilder and a pipeline company. Daniels says it’s part of the port's strategy to diversify its business: "With the oil and gas industry coming in, the expansion of activities at our bulk-handling facility. Combine that with the container operations and a couple of other cargos that we're looking at, and we are very comfortable."
Reilly Morse with the Mississippi Center for Justice, praised what he called the port’s improved aggressiveness in attracting maritime jobs and deepening its channel. But he’d still like to see the port move the construction along more quickly.
"This was about trying to revitalize and expand and strengthen the port," he says. "Pieces of that they are doing rioght now, that are happening on the prot's actual footprint, should continue and enlarge. That's the simplest answer. They need to move the completion of the construction forward."
One other recent development: the port may be getting back into the poultry business. Port director Daniels says the port is looking to install about 30,000 square feet of blast freezer capacity and storage.
"That allows us the opportunity to entice some of the poultry operations back, but also the beef, the pork, and some of the other products in Mississsippi that are grown and produced [here and] looking for export markets," he says. "We will be able to process that, store it, pack it, and then put it in containers and move it worldwide."
Before Hurricane Katrina, the port exported more than 100,000 tons of frozen cargo, most of which was poultry. Those freezers were destroyed in the storm, and the poultry business moved to competing ports.