The Port of Gulfport has spent 10 years and $350.5 million in federal money on expansion, but so far documented only 99 new jobs that are directly related to port operations.
Even so, the Mississippi Development Authority and state port report to the federal government and public that 425 jobs have been created during West Pier renovation and expansion. The federal government supplied $570 million for the project after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, requiring in return that the port to create 1,300 new jobs in the year 2021, or three years after construction is completed.
Casino jobs created by port tenant Island View Casino Resort don’t count toward the required total.
However, MDA is counting new casino jobs in reports submitted to the federal government, and port officials are using the 425 total as a talking point in public presentations. Port director Jonathan Daniels used the figure in a PowerPoint presentation shown earlier this week at a packed Gulfport Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Afterward, the Sun Herald requested a breakdown of those jobs from MDA. MDA’s report shows 326 of the new jobs are at Island View’s hotel on port property south of U.S. 90. The hotel reopened in 2015 after post-Katrina renovations.
The only port jobs in the 425 total MDA lists are 92 new jobs at the Gulf Coast Shipyard Group, which moved into a building several years ago on the East Pier, and seven jobs in the Mississippi State Port Authority’s administrative offices.
McDermott International Inc. also has started operations at the port, but MDA does not list any jobs for McDermott. MDA says it is still working to verify those jobs.
The Steps Coalition of nonprofit groups is monitoring jobs at the port because member organizations are concerned about job creation in exchange for all the federal dollars spent and the impact an expanded port will have on the community. Howard Page of the Steps Coalition said he has been asking MDA’s Disaster Recovery Division for several months to give him a breakdown of the 425 jobs, but he has not received it.
When told Friday the numbers MDA is supplying include casino jobs, Page said: “They’re not meeting their job numbers and they’re desperate. There’s nothing at the port in terms of those federal job funds that has anything to do with those (casino) jobs being created.
“That’s 100 percent Island View investment. The building already existed. There was no port investment. It’s great those jobs are there, but all the credit should go to Island View.”
When Daniels talked about the jobs earlier this week at the chamber breakfast, he said people “incessantly” complain the port has spent half its federal money, but created less than half the required jobs.
“You know what? We’re a long way toward that 1,300 job total,” he told the crowd. “Asking us to have half the jobs done with half the money spent would be like demanding that a university hold half its football games in a stadium that’s only half complete. I know Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Ole Miss wouldn’t do that.
“Ladies and gentleman, we’re not ready yet. Give us a little more time.”