GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Federal HUD Secretary, Julian Castro, says his department is committed to helping the Port of Gulfport succeed with its ongoing expansion project.
The port is spending $570 million in HUD money, with the requirement that 1,300 new jobs be created.
There is much construction activity currently underway at the Port of Gulfport. The executive director touted the progress at the monthly port commission meeting Thursday morning.
"You look down on that site right now, and it is a cluster beyond belief. And it's one of the most wonderful clusters you can ever imagine," said Port Director, Jonathan Daniels, "It means that progress is being done. It means that we are moving forward. It means that we are creating jobs."
The STEPS coalition says those new jobs are awfully slow in coming and that current port employment numbers are still below pre-Katrina.
"We should have created 1,300 additional jobs. And not gone the other way. So, that's of course the basis for concern here," said Howard Page, of the STEPS Coalition, as he spoke during the public comments portion of the port commission meeting.
HUD Secretary Julian Castro toured the port Thursday afternoon. WLOX News asked him about the port expansion project and whether the nearly $600 million investment is worth it.
"I believe that that investment is going to make a good difference to create at least 1,300 jobs, new jobs over the next few years. I saw some good activity happening," said Secretary Castro. "I am confident the job goals will be achieved. I believe that all the folks here on the ground understand the importance of hitting that job creation target. And we will be strong partners to do everything that we can to see that it stays on course."
There are many who are watching the progress and job creation numbers at the Port of Gulfport, including the president of the Gulfport branch NAACP.
"We feel we're headed in the right direction. We're not where we want to be. But we're working diligently with them on a personal basis," said Gary Fredericks, NAACP branch president.
"I see a lot of progress. A lot of pilings going in the ground. A lot of infrastructure," said longshoreman and Gulfport city council member, Kenneth "Truck" Casey, "And up here on the 15th floor you can really get a good insight what's going on."
Port director Daniels says McDermott is ahead of schedule with its project on the east pier and should be "rolling off pipe" by early November.