GULFPORT -- Port Executive Director Jonathan Daniels assured Gulfport business leaders Tuesday that Topship, a company that received millions in tax incentives and breaks to build at the new inland port off Seaway Road, will have a much different operation than its sister company, Gulf Ship, which has been laying off workers for the past year in the same industrial park.
Both companies are affiliates of Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore, which Daniels said is the world's largest oil and gas support operation.
Topship plans to invest $70 million on the inland port property, and the state and port are directly contributing $36 million. Gulf Ship, which builds 312-foot vessels for the oil industry, had about 700 employees a year ago, but is down to about 110 employees, according to several employees who emailed the Sun Herald.
Gulf Ship referred the Sun Herald to ECO for comment, but the spokesperson there has not returned phone calls.
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"It's not a bait-and-switch operation," Daniels told the Gulfport Business Club members. ECO, he said, is "not shutting down one (company) to open up another."
"What's different with the Topship facility?" he said. "Now, I can't fully go into what they're going to do. That's for them to decide. But the two facilities are extremely different.
"Will there be some ship building? Yes, there certainly will be." He said other activities also will be taking place at Topship because ECO is "extremely diverse" as a company, with 13,000 to 15,000 employees worldwide.
In Gulfport, Topship is receiving tax breaks in exchange for the promise of 1,000 jobs by 2022.
Daniels also trumpeted the port's progress on a $570 million, federally funded restoration and expansion project. The funding was approved after Hurricane Katrina more than 10 years ago, but Daniels said the port was unable to begin work in earnest until 2011.
Construction will be finished in mid-2017, he said, when carriers Dole and Crowley will move to new facilities on the West Pier.
Daniels said he also is hearing from other carriers interested in the port. Much of the buzz is over three rail-mounted gantry cranes that should be arriving March 16 from China, where they were built over 18 months. When the booms are raised, the cranes will stand 300 feet tall. By comparison, Gulfport's tallest building, the Hancock Bank building, is 170 feet tall.
"What has been a niche port for years is beginning to make a level of investment that is going to allow us the opportunity not only to serve our existing tenant base in a more efficient manner," Daniels said, "but it's really becoming, with the equipment we are bringing in, the cornerstone of our business development activities when it comes to international cargo.
" We are now beginning to talk with some of the global carriers that are looking at alternatives to some of the other ports they are utilizing in the Gulf. We can compete."