Port Director sees promising future for Gulfport facilities

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Jonathan Daniels says he knew the many challenges facing the Port of Gulfport when he accepted the job as Executive Director.

He's now been in that position for nearly six months.

Daniels says that since taking over six months ago, much progress has been made, but there are still challenges ahead.

"There should be an expectation by the public. There's a significant amount of public funding going into this," said Daniels, as he surveyed the port property from his office atop the Hancock Bank Building.

The new Port Director knows full well what's at stake. The port must use $570 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create 1,200 new jobs.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. There have been a lot of moving parts. It's a very complex project. We certainly understand people's desire to get the project done. To get it done in such a time frame that allows us the opportunity to get the jobs created, but we can't create the jobs until the terminal is in place. That's going to be 2016."

This week, a military ship was unloading material for the Seabee base. It could signal the start of an agreement to handle future Department of Defense cargo.

"We have the facilities to be able to support them, so rather than having them send their cargo through a port in Texas, a port in South Carolina, we have a good option for them that can save them money, save them time."

Director Daniels has made multiple recruitment trips since taking the job, courting future business, with promising results.

"Signing that first new marine company that's coming in. We're involved in 14 active negotiations as we speak. Once the first one occurs, I think we certainly feel the dominoes are going to start to fall, and that will begin a process when we're able to fit those other customers in certain areas."

Two recently announced local expansions are also good news.

"You take a look as well at what's happened the past several months with DuPont, with Island View. Between those two projects you're looking at $110 million in private investment on the port property in two different sectors."

Daniels says the port is also working on a project to dredge the shipping channel to its licensed depth of 36 feet.

Plans for that improvement are working their way through Washington D.C. Dredging work could begin sometime next year.

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