PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - For 80 years now, Ingalls Shipyard has been the economic engine that drives the Jackson County economy. Just how big is that economic impact? One billion dollars a year, that’s how big.
Ingalls is huge, both in the size of the shipyard, and the size of the paychecks delivered to those employed there. George Freeland is the economic development director in Jackson County.
"We’re looking at in 2017 right at a $15 million a week payroll, and an overall $770 million annual payroll,” Freeland said.
Some of that payroll is used to pump up sales at local car dealerships. Ingalls workers buy a lot of cars and trucks. Don Daughdrill is the General Manager at Estabrook Nissan.
“It’s been a huge percentage of our customer base for many, many years," Daughdrill said. "Just like the rest of us in Jackson County and the Gulf Coast in general, we would have a much tougher time and a much greater impact in a negative way if it wasn’t for Ingalls.”
At the Nola-Goula Inn and Cafe, there is always something stirring in the pot, and rooms available. That suits Café Manager Debbie Gauthreaux just fine.
“Well, we’re really happy to have the Ingalls workers," Gauthreaux said. "Not only do they stay in our hotel, they’re eating in our restaurant. And it means a lot to us to have them there. This community needs this impact. We all need it.”
The economic impact of the shipyard is not just felt by local businesses, it’s also felt in the lives of the people who work there. Good wages mean a good life.
Ovide J. Davis is retired from the shipyard, providing for his family along the way.
“All four of my children were able to finish their high school programs and go to colleges and universities and they’ll all become independent people,” Davis said proudly.
The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce represents hundreds of small businesses. The bond between the chamber and the shipyard is a strong one, according to Chamber Director Carla Todd Voda.
“Everything that we’re involved in, they are on the front lines. They’re there. They’re helping small businesses do business with them,” Voda said.
At Jerry Lee’s, hungry shipyard workers buy a lot of groceries. But the deli is a real hotspot before the first shift begins at Ingalls. Mary Menendez is the cook.
“Our breakfast starts at 5am in the morning, and they’re here at a quarter 'til, and they are lined up," Menendez said. “We do anywhere from $1000 for breakfast. Then we’ve got a lunch rush. It’s a big impact on Jerry Lee’s.”
So much of the economic impact on Ingalls has been focused on what’s happened in the past, and what’s happening now in the present, that we sometimes forget about the future. And with a $5 billion contract to build six new destroyers for the Navy, the future looks pretty good.
“As a reflection of that, the fact that the yard is making significant investments into a rehabilitation of the East Bank as they need the space. They need the room to manufacture these new classes,” Freeland said.
So there’s no doubt, as Ingalls goes, so goes Jackson County.
Ingalls employs close to 12,000 people. And more hiring is expected in the near future.