GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Despite the naysayers, Port of Gulfport officials said they're growing more confident everyday that they'll meet their objectives for job creation. Director Jonathan Daniels delivered that message to people taking part in public tours the port offered on Saturday morning. Officials said they opened their doors to give people the opportunity to see for themselves what is underway at the port.
Passengers said they hopped on the bus tour because they didn't want to pass up a rare chance. What surprised them most was the massiveness of it all.
Norm Ellis teaches at Albert State College in New York. He and his students are in South Mississippi volunteering with Habitat For Humanity. When the rain kept them from working they decided to tour the port.
"I just didn't realize how huge it was," Ellis said. "When you drive by it on the road you are like, 'Oh that's it?' But when you go out there it's huge. The capacity and the cranes."
During the ride, Port Director Jonathan Daniels told passengers how the port handles 250 trucks a day except on Fridays when it goes up to about 450 trucks a day.
He described the kinds of cargo that comes through as imports and exports. Then he explained an expansion now underway. He told passengers about a report projecting the port won't meet a mandate to produce 1,200 jobs within three years of the expansion's completion.
"There have been several reports that have come out that say we will not meet it. We beg to differ," said Daniels. "It didn't take into consideration the new tenants. It didn't take into consideration any growth with our existing tenants. It didn't take into consideration the signing of a new lease which guarantees additional tonnage coming through the Dupont facility."
Officials said with the port being in the news so much they decided to do the tours to give the public an opportunity to visit and ask questions.
Margaret Strnad of Gulfport said, "I think it's fantastic. Everyone ought to take advantage of it. We've made a suggestion to do it once or twice a year every year. I think everyone needs to see what is going on at the Port of Gulfport. It answers so many questions that some many people have."
"It's our opportunity to get that information out there," said Daniels. "They may not ultimately agree with what we're doing but at least they've been provided the information. We're the Mississippi Port Authority at Gulfport, but we're the Port of Gulfport as well. We're a part of the community. This is an opportunity for us to be able to give back. We hope to able to do this on a more consistent basis."
Port officials said 185 people took part in the Port of Gulfport tour from 9 a.m. and noon.