CEO says block grant helps Signal International build jobs - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

CEO says block grant helps Signal International build jobs

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) – If you're looking for signs of job growth, a company in Pascagoula says you can start with its shipyard. Officials with the Mobile-based Signal International say its employee roster in Pascagoula is up by more than 200 people and now sits at 500.  Company officials credit a grant for the growth and say more new jobs could be on the way. 

Beside the cranes of Signal International lies a massive oil rig, named the Diamond Baroness.  The rig is headed to waters near Brazil's coastline, but first, Signal International's Pascagoula workers are repairing it.

"We're doing a lot of pipe work, a lot of steel replacement," said Signal International CEO Dick Marler.  "We're also doing a lot of painting on it."

Marler said an $8 million Community Development Block Grant paved the way for the Diamond Baroness's presence at Signal's Pascagoula yard.  He said the company used grant funds to dredge a hole in shipyard's ocean floor, deep enough to allow them to take on rigs as big as the Diamond Baroness.

"It's 300 by 500 by 60 feet deep," said Marler.  "What this allows us to do is bring bigger rigs in that are loaded and heavier."

Marler said the grant required the company to match funds up to $2 million, which he said was used to fund upgrades in machinery and capital equipment. 

Marler said community welders, painters and other craftsmen have already felt the effects of the yard's added capacity.

"Currently we have almost 300 people working on it," said Marler.  "So the immediate impact of the dredging basically was to create jobs for 300 people."

Marler said the company's Pascagoula shipyard has employed up to 2,000 people at its Pascagoula yard in recent years.  At the height of the recession, that number dropped to 250 employees.  Marler hopes the company's ability to take on bigger projects will keep that number on the rise.

"Over time, we hope to get a lot of rigs in the queue, the backlog," said Marler.  "And restore our manning to levels we've had historically in this yard."

Marler said the added capacity bodes well for signal's future repairing rigs in Pascagoula.

"The Obama administration's decision to open up drilling in federal waters off the coast of Florida means there will be a lot more drilling rigs moving to the east," said Marler.  "And these rigs will be deep water rigs very similar to the diamond baroness and we have to have the capability to work on these rigs."

Signal International has shipyards in Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.  The company's corporate office recently moved from Pascagoula to Mobile.

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