Chiquita leaving Port of Gulfport; New tenant to be announced Monday

GULFPORT, MS (AP/WLOX) - Chiquita Brands International Inc. is leaving the Port of Gulfport, and returning to New Orleans. That word came Wednesday from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Chiquita official Mario Pacheco.

"This was a clear business decision for us surrounding our new shipping configuration rather than any dissatisfaction with the strong and economically competitive team we have had at Gulfport," said Pacheco, who supervises the company's global logistics. "We have valued our partnership with the Port of Gulfport and thank them for many years of great service."

The move leaves the Port of Gulfport without one of its four principle tenants, and will mean the loss of about 200 direct and indirect jobs.

Chiquita moved to the Port of Gulfport in the 1970s after more than 70 years in New Orleans. The company expects to begin shipping through New Orleans in early 2015.

Louisiana and the port offered more than $5 million in incentives. Specifically, the State of Louisiana will provide Chiquita a performance-based incentive of $18.55 per 20-foot-equivalent units (TEU) for a total value of $1.11 million to 1.45 million annually. That is expected to offset increased shipping and handling costs at the Port of New Orleans.

The state of Louisiana will also invest $2.2 million in a port owned distribution/ripening facility to be leased to Chiquita. And the Port of New Orleans will invest $2.0 million for refrigerated-container electrical infrastructure and rehabilitation of a container freight warehouse to accommodate the project.

While folks in Louisiana are celebrating the company's decision, Mississippi officials are remaining optimistic about their port of the future.

"Monday morning, there will be a special called meeting of the Board of Commissioners to approve a new lease with a new tenant," Port of Gulfport Executive Director Jonathan Daniels announced in a statement Wednesday. "While I can't disclose specific details, I will tell you that it represents more full-time jobs and ILA labor on the Port."

Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Christensen also alluded to a new tenant saying he was looking forward to "celebrating new job creation announcements soon."

"Current business development prospects are aimed at diversifying the cargo mix, bringing higher levels of throughput, jobs and revenues to the port," Christensen said.

Still, some local officials are expressing concerns, including Gulfport Council Member Truck Casey. He told WLOX News Tuesday that he worries losing Chiquita could impact how contract renewals are negotiated with other port tenants. Casey said the tenants will likely want to pay less or threaten to leave.

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