Jerry Dexter remembers the late 1980s, when nobody seemed to be building anything in South Mississippi. "It was pretty hard," the carpenter said, "because I had to raise five kids, and they were in school. So it was kind of rough on me. But I made it."
So did Steve Buck. But the safety manager at the Hard Rock construction site almost gave up on the coast during those lean years before casinos. "It was really hard," said Buck. "That's why I had to pick up and move on." Buck spent 1989 and 1990 in Florida. But two years after his return to Biloxi, he was working 75 hours a week, building the first casinos in Harrison and Hancock Counties. Ever since then, "It's just been steady work," he said, "plenty of work."
Statistically the coast job market has changed quite a bit since 1992 -- when dockside gambling reshaped South Mississippi's landscape. According to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, more people live and work in the three coastal counties. And the average salary is between $25-30,000 -- nearly a $10,000 jump from 1990 levels.
"I haven't had to worry about being out of a job," said Buck. "It's helped a lot as far as paying the bills and stuff like that."
The same has been true for Jerry Dexter. "Since the casinos came in, I can buy things now I need at home for the kids and stuff like that," he said. "Before then, I was just scrapping, man."
With more construction project on the horizon, Dexter's scrapping days seem to be behind him.
This Sunday is the 12 year anniversary of the Isle of Capri, and the Mississippi casino industry. To celebrate the occasion, the Isle will host a fireworks display at its Point Cadet resort.