GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "We're not just a shipping facility. We are an economic development agency," said Port of Gulfport Executive Director Jonathan Daniels, who shared that message at Tuesday's meeting of the Gulfport Business Club.
Daniels could point to the progress from the 15th floor of the Hancock Bank building. He calls it "our glorious mess" of construction and pile driving.
One of the biggest challenges has been recruiting new customers amid all the ongoing work.
"They want to see that the facilities are done. Or that they're far enough along. That's been the hard part of this," Daniels told the lunchtime crowd.
McDermott has been among the success stories. The offshore oil support company is gearing up in Gulfport.
"You take a look down there with McDermott. You not only see the vessels. You see that yellow tannish type of pipe. That's their first project that they're rolling off the line as we speak," said Daniels.
Recruiting the oil and gas industry and related business is already paying dividends for the port.
"Because of the deep water we have, in the minds of the oil and gas industry, this port itself has an opportunity to be a major player in the oil and gas construction industry," said Daniels.
The recent announcement by Top Ship and its plans for the inland port site represent a significant future investment, according to Daniels.
"Will there be some ship building? Yes, there certainly will be. Will there be some level of construction or support activities for sub-sea? Yes, there will be. Will there be other activities? Yes," Daniels told the crowd. "It's not a bait and switch operation. They're not shutting down one to open another. This is an expansion of capabilities of one of the world's great support operations for the oil and gas industry."
The next very visible sign of port progress will happen in three weeks. That's when the giant gantry cranes arrive from China.
In response to a question about deepening the channel, Daniels said while it's part of the long term planning, for now, the port is moving forward and recruiting new business with its 36-foot deep channel.