Ingalls workers speak out on decision to close Gulfport facility

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The decision by Huntington Ingalls to close its Gulfport facility will impact hundreds of South Mississippians.

The shipyard specializes in making key components for ships from a man-made composite material. Last month, the Navy decided to use steel instead of composite material. That means the Gulfport yard is no longer needed.

As workers of the shipyard left, Wednesday afternoon, after a long day of work, many wondered, will they still have a job?

"You're in shipbuilding for 22 years, you kind of get used to it and roll with the flow," said employee Buddy Dennis. "And if you get laid off, you get laid off."

Many employees feel confident they have jobs waiting for them at Huntington Ingalls in Pascagoula.

"I'll hopefully head back up there and still do the same type of job that I'm doing here," said Dennis.

"I am really not mad, not depressed, because I am a welder and I'm going back to Pascagoula. But I feel sorry for my co-workers," said Rafael Falla.

While Dennis and Falla aren't upset with the decision to close the shipyard, a man, who chose to remain anonymous, was outraged.

"Well, after this 7 O'Clock meeting this morning, we had our own little meeting and I spoke up and made a statement, 'The Navy is our customer. This is our tax dollars at work,'" said the anonymous employee.

"It's been a long relationship, it's been a good relationship," said Harrison County Development Commission Executive Director Bill Hessell. "Here's a decision that was out of our control that we couldn't do anything about and that's disappointing. You know, when you're trying to do everything you can and still it's not enough."

The facility is set to close by May of 2014, leaving 427 workers to find jobs elsewhere. Hessell said even though this is disappointing, it's been a long time coming.

"It wasn't shocking because we heard the rumors that this was going to be happening," said Hessell.

He said all that's left to do now is move on.

"I have already heard from a couple of companies in the shipbuilding business who want to know more about that facility," said Hessell.

"I either get moved back to Pascagoula, or they lay off all the contractors and I just go get another job," said the anonymous employee.

Hessell said his hope is that the employees who don't get transferred to the Jackson County yard can find jobs in Harrison County. He said another option is go to community college and be trained in a specific field for another position.

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