GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The future of the Port of Gulfport is bright. That's the message from the port's executive director, Jonathan Daniels. He spoke to a packed house of business and community leaders Tuesday morning. The $575 million HUD financed port expansion is on schedule to be complete in the spring of 2018.
But there are some who think that progress at the port is moving too slow, especially when it comes to handing out paychecks. Part of the agreement with HUD, was the creation of 1300 promised jobs.
"We remain concerned that the focus today wasn't on job creation. That's what this has always been about, is creating permanent jobs," said Howard Page with the Steps Coalition. "We strongly advocate any effort that actually going to create jobs. When I look at the numbers from where we started and where we are today, we've only lost jobs at the port."
Port Director Jonathan Daniels hears those voices.
"We certainly understand what they are saying, we respect what they are saying. We certainly don't agree with them that we are not creating them fast enough," Daniels explained.
But Page remains unsatisfied.
"This is recovery money from Hurricane Katrina. We're now many, many years, 12 years past Katrina and the port has not done what this is about, which is creating jobs."
While the port director says he understands the concern over job creation, he also said there's a simple answer as to why all of them haven't been created as of yet.
"I'd love to have 1300 jobs right now, but we need to be able to expend the money, get the facilities on line and allow the tenants the opportunity to be able to put those jobs in place," Daniels explained.
For many elected officials, the focus on jobs is a good thing, despite gains in other areas of port operations. One of them is Ella Holmes-Hines, a Gulfport city council member.
"What Jonathan is saying today, he's halfway there and he's aware that these 1,300 jobs are looming over him, and that he's going to get it done because that's what we need, are those real jobs that will change the quality of life for our port."
Daniels also touched on several other topics, including another possible future expansion, beautification efforts, the partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi, community outreach and signing almost every port tenant to a long term lease.