GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - When 1,000 jobs were lost after the Port of Gulfport’s deal with Edison Chouest fell apart, it raised new concerns about the port’s ability to meet a federal requirement to create jobs. Some are asking questions about the timing of the original deal with Edison Chouest.
Meanwhile, the port is confident it is on track and is continuing to look for ways to attract new tenants.
After being given $570 million in Community Development Block Grant funds by the Department of Housing and Urban Development after Hurricane Katrina, the port has been fighting to meet a mandate to produce jobs. That’s why the news that Edison Chouest’s failure to follow through on its plans could raise some concerns.
Port Director Jonathan Daniels said while Edison Chouest is still paying on its lease and the inland property could be developed in another manner, the failure of the original project to materialize was a bitter pill to swallow.
“To have that project fall through, yes, that is disappointing. We still have the asset that is there. We’re still going to work with Topship. While we’ve lost that particular project, they’re continuing to work to find uses for the property,” Daniels said.
Community activist Howard Page has been monitoring progress at the port from day one. Considering trends in the oil and gas sector, he always wonders about the timing of striking a deal with Edison Chouest, a company heavily invested in offshore drilling.
“It really didn’t make sense to bring over oil jobs from Louisiana right as fracking was happening onshore and the offshore business was reducing,” Page said.
Daniels contends that the port could diversify moving forward by creating jobs at the port outside of the traditional maritime and shipping industries.
“I think you could see something in the next several years for opportunities, strategically for more commercial development,” Daniels said.
At this point, the port has created 587 verified jobs on its march to 1,300. A deal is pending with SeaOne, a leading company in the natural gas industry. The port is receiving credit for jobs at Island View’s new casino operation on port property, and Daniels said other projects are in the pipeline. Ultimately, HUD along with the state will determine the validity of the job-creation process.
“We’re going to let HUD and the Mississippi Development Authority verify that. They’ll make sure all jobs fit in the action plan created in 2007 and make sure the jobs fully qualify,” Daniels said.
The deadline for the HUD mandate on job creation is December of 2021.