GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - For the Port of Gulfport, 2009 was a busy year. The rebuilding of berths one and two on the west pier was completed. This year also saw the ceremonial "ground making" for the port's one billion dollar expansion project.
Construction crews drive concrete pilings on berth three along the west pier. The work is part of the port authority's post-Katrina pledge that facilities here would be built back bigger, better and stronger.
"What ship operators and owners of cargo know is that if you don't have the room to handle the volumes of cargo that they control, in an efficient, safe, economical manner, they're inclined to go look at the facilities that do have those features," Port Executive Director Don Allee said.
Berth one was finished in 2009, giving prominent customer Chiquita the permanent space it needs.
"These are interesting times. As the world gets smaller and maritime commerce only seems to grow," said Alee, "And that growth is going to increase dramatically after the year 2014 when the Panama Canal is expanded."
Governor Haley Barbour helped kick off the port expansion project in early July, a plan that will double the size of the port.
For those who may characterize the expansion as "overly ambitious," the port director would argue otherwise.
"I would say if you don't have the facilities in place in advance of that Panama Canal expansion, and in light of the growth that we know is around the corner, then we do our community, our state, our region a disservice. So, you've got to have the facilities or you're not going to be able to compete in the coming years," Allee said.
Adding capacity to the port not only means more shipments of cargo, it also greatly enhances the economic impact of the facility. And that means jobs.
"Our mission is to stimulate commerce. We want to be an incubator when it comes to maritime commerce. Goods coming in. Goods going out. Jobs being created. Once the ships and the containers and the other cargo finds its way here in our future, I think the story only gets better," said the director.
The next step for the billion dollar port expansion project is the permitting phase, which could take from two to five years.
Meanwhile, work continues on expanding the port property to the west. Trucks have already delivered more than a half million cubic yards of sand to build up that land.