New Port of Gulfport director excited about the challenges

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The new executive director of the Mississippi State Port at Gulfport began work this week. Among his challenges, Jonathan Daniels will oversee the massive half-billion dollar expansion project at the port.

Daniels comes to the coast from upstate New York, where he was executive director at the Port of Oswego. The new director sees plenty of economic development opportunity in Gulfport's "port of the future".

From his 14th floor office in the Hancock Bank building, Daniels has a bird's eye view of a port facility in transition.

"The fact that we are dealing with a $567 million restoration and reinvention. At the same time we're trying to do that, simultaneously without disrupting operations of four existing tenants," he said.

The project won't be finished until 2017. Improved port facilities and the addition of new equipment like gantry cranes, will position the port to better serve its existing tenants like Dole, Chiquita, Crawley and Dupont.

"But also leverage this facility to bring in additional carriers and additional business," explains Daniels.

Job creation has been a critical issue tied to the port project, which must result in 1200 new jobs.  Director Daniels says that job component remains a primary objective.

"Once that money is expended and the facility is in place, there is a three year period in which we still have the opportunity to meet that job creation component.  We need to get the facilities in place right now. What you see primarily now, happens to be in the construction mode," he said.

Another issue is deepening the ship channel.  Daniels says the first obligation is getting to the minimum 36 feet. And while it may be desirable to go deeper, say 42 or 45 feet, he wants to avoid going too deep and bringing in vessels too large.

"Carrying too much cargo, putting too much stress on the infrastructure that's in place, not only on the port itself, but outside the port, on the road and the rail network. We need to be able to match those totals," said the new director.

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