GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Leaders of the State Port at Gulfport gave the media a tour of that growing facility on Tuesday. They showed visitors the recently completed 60 acre expansion and discussed other planned improvements.
Port leaders say they must "create more capacity" in order to remain competitive. Creating that 60 acres of additional space is the first big part of the post-Katrina improvement plans. And the executive director says the port is poised to be a world-class competitor.
"As I'm sure you know, this whole area was wiped out by Katrina," said the port's chief operating officer as the shuttle bus arrived at the port, "We're in the midst of a $570 million restoration plan."
Port leaders hosted a show-and-tell bus tour of the expanding facilities. The so-called 60 acre fill will provide critical additional space.
Don Allee is the executive director of the port.
"This is the result of the direction we're going, and that is to create more capacity. We want to increase the volumes of containers that we handle and one of the primary needs is to have enough room, literally, to handle and marshal containers," he said.
Relocation plans are next, giving primary customers more modern facilities.
"We'll have enough space to relocate Dole, Chiquita and Crowley here into new facilities and add one new tenant to the port," said Joe Conn, who oversees post-Katrina restoration at the port.
A stark reminder of Katrina's destructive force can still be seen on the side of a storage silo, where chipped paint shows the height of water damage. Mitigation plans call for raising the entire port to an elevation of 25 feet.
"To prevent us from ever going through a storm surge such as the one we went through with Katrina. It's as much to protect the port, but it's also about protecting the community that surrounds the port," said Allee.
One significant factor in the port's expansion is the future widening of the Panama Canal. That project will have far reaching implications for the shipping industry and could be a real game changer for Gulfport.
"The widening of the canal will allow ship owners to re-deploy their fleet if they so choose. If they believe it's beneficial to their business, to their individual businesses. And that re-deployment could very well mean more cargo in the whole gulf region," said Matthew Wypyski, the chief operating officer for the port.
"Before these 'next tier' carriers will look at us, they've got to be convinced that we're serious about our strategy," said Allee, "And we are."
Tropical fruit is among the port's largest incoming cargo. The clothing industry relies on textiles and fabric shipped by the Gulfport port. Customers include Fruit of the Loom and Victoria's Secret.