Port director says expansion boils down to jobs

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It all boils down to jobs. Ongoing concerns about the expansion at the State Port of Gulfport inevitably point to employment opportunities or the lack thereof.

It was early December 2011. That's when then-Governor Haley Barbour unveiled impressive plans for the Port of the Future.

"People will look back and say the Port of Gulfport restoration was the biggest economic development project in the history of Mississippi," said Governor Barbour.

In the 20 months since then those plans have changed dramatically. For instance, gone is the idea of raising the port elevation to 25 feet.

"It continues to evolve even today. We've added a little bit with some of our rail activity to enhance some rail flexibility that we're going to have in the future. That's something that came up over the last few months. And something that was not foreseen early on," said Port Director Jonathan Daniels.

What hasn't changed is the job expectation. HUD demands the project create 1200 new jobs.

"We currently are working with a couple of customers with some MOU's to try and bring some additional cargo and some additional long term tenants onto the site. And by doing that, that will allow us the opportunity to meet that mandate of 1200 jobs," said Director Daniels.

The timetable for creating those 1200 new jobs required by HUD is a lengthy one.

Technically, the port has three years after construction is complete. And that won't likely happen until 2016.

"But we're not waiting for that time. We're looking at new tenants. We're looking at new business opportunities. We're looking at a variety of options that are going to allow us the opportunity not only to increase business, but also create the jobs that's the mandate from HUD," said Daniels.

Though things have been rather quiet recently, Director Daniels says work on the project will soon pick up considerably.

"We should have the bid and specification packages for phase one completed by the end of December and be out on the streets with a significant portion of the construction project sometime in early 2014," said Port Director Daniels.

The port director continues an extensive review of the port authority's contract with CH-2M Hill. That's the global consulting firm in charge of managing the overall port project.

The new director says that company has been cutting back on expenses and the port is asking for even more cost reductions.

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