State port Director Jonathan Daniels told a business crowd Tuesday in Gulfport that 250 jobs expected from expansion of port tenant Island View Casino Resort will not count toward 1,300 jobs the port must create in exchange for federal assistance after Hurricane Katrina.
Daniels said at a Gulfport Chamber of Commerce breakfast the port has created 425 of the total jobs required in exchange for $570 million in federal money that has been used since 2008 to restore and expand the West Pier. The project, previously scheduled to be finished in the first quarter of 2017, is one year behind schedule.
Island View’s jobs do not count because the non-maritime tenant has expanded on port property that is not part of the federally funded expansion. The 250 jobs mentioned would be part of a planned expansion that would add a casino to port property south of U.S. 90 where Island View restored a hotel tower. Island View already operates a casino and hotel on the north side of the highway.
Daniels, who came aboard as director three years ago, after the project was well under way, told the Sun Herald construction delays are to be expected at the century-old port. The port’s mainstay tenants, he said, have been accommodating about shuffling around and continuing operations during construction.
Under Daniels’ leadership, a number of new tenants have come aboard and the port has expanded into the oil-services business. He is confident the port will create all the jobs required, and possibly more. He said he is asked all the time why the port is short of its jobs goal.
He uses the analogy of a football stadium. A team can’t be expected to play half its games in a stadium under construction, he said, so how can the port be expected to have half its required jobs on a West Pier that is unfinished?
The port is in the final stages of lease negotiations with SeaOne, which hopes to condition and liquefy gas that would be piped into the port for shipment to customers in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. SeaOne would occupy the last remaining berth on the West Pier when expansion is finished. The company initially plans to hire 35 production employees, but Daniels said executive staff and security would add more jobs.
Topship, an affiliate of Louisiana-based oil-services giant Edison Chouest Offshore, has promised to create 700 jobs at the state’s inland port off Seaway Road in exchange for more than $36 million in state funding and tax incentives, although a Chouest affiliate in Louisiana has failed to deliver on job promises in exchange for that state’s assistance.
Howard Page of the Steps Coalition, a group of organizations monitoring the port expansion and job creation, said he asked several months ago for a breakdown of the 425 new jobs at the port. The Mississippi Development Authority, which oversees the port and its expansion, has not responded to the request, he said. “Even counting those jobs,” Page said, “we are still 47 jobs below where we started.”
Page was referring to the 1,286 jobs at the port before Katrina struck in 2005. Combining existing and new jobs gives the port a total of 1,239 jobs today. The Sun Herald on Tuesday asked MDA for a breakdown on categories of jobs created and will update this story when a response is received.
Daniels is confident about the port’s future and jobs that will be created. He expects oil-services tenant McDermott to expand and said the port has a growing reputation in that industry, with other oil-services companies now docking in Gulfport for short stays. Their crews pour money into the local economy while they are in town, he said.