Out on the eastern tip of Biloxi, workers at Ershigs Incorporated kicked up a lot of manufacturing dust. The plant produces fiberglass pipes, tanks, and other specialty equipment.
For 45 days in 2001, Bruce Lafata and nine of his colleagues made some of the wastewater pipes used at the Nissan plant. "Oh they were hard days," remembered Lafata. "We worked hard to catch up with it, stay on time with it and get it out when we were supposed to ship."
The Nissan contract wasn't Ershigs biggest deal ever. But plant manager Kirk Bell said it came at a good time. "It was a pretty big impact because at that time we were pretty slow," he said. "We were getting ready to lay people off. So it had a big impact to us."
At the precise moment Nissan rolled out its first Mississippi car, Ershigs' 35 employees were busy filling a new order. They didn't very much have time to celebrate their role in the auto maker's arrival. It wasn't a "truly a big significance," said Lafata, "other than we were building something made of our state."
Lafata's boss was proud of what Ershigs was able to do for Nissan. "I know that we did a great job helping them out," he said. "And it helped us out. I mean we all need jobs. And that's what they're doing, they're up there getting us some jobs for our people."
Right now, Nissan's plan is to ship its Mississippi cars to dealerships around the U.S. Eventually, those cars could be exported to foreign countries. If that happens, the Port of Gulfport and Nissan could become partners. Port leaders think that sort of relationship is still five to 10 years away.