South Mississippi may be on the brink of a business deal with worldwide implications. An air cargo center is about to open at Gulfport Biloxi International Airport. It promises to be a distribution solution for the import export industry. And if it fulfills that promise, it should be an economic shot in the arm for the gulf coast.
Transporting produce like Peruvian asparagus to the coast by air seems to be the next logical step for Mike Alise and Gulf Coast Produce.
"It does because we can bring the product in a lot fresher and quicker," the company's president said.
Alise has clients at restaurants across the coast who crave specific international delicacies. And the most cost effective way he can get them here is through the skies. But until now, that delivery option hasn't been available to him.
"To me, getting the product fresher and quicker to the consumer, you can't even put a price tag on that," he said.
Next year, cargo jets carrying produce, seafood and flowers are coming, because Alise and airport leaders have been able to lure a few of them to south Mississippi.
"We become effectively an alternative to the main operating center for perishables, and that's Miami," airport director Bruce Frallic said.
Miami has more than 200 international cargo flights a day. Gulfport's airport may have five flights a week. Still, Frallic believes new ramps, and a $10 million air cargo distribution center can help the gulf coast make a significant dent in the import/export industry.
"We have a niche. We're working the perishables angle," he said. "So we're doing some things that no other airport is doing."
Work on the new cargo complex started shortly after Katrina badly damaged the airport's other warehouse. The federal government is paying $56 million for the project. Frallic expects the air cargo facility to create at least 40 jobs.
"I think it's a really big deal," said Frallic. "It's a new industry for the Mississippi Gulf Coast."
An industry that connects the coast's new air cargo center to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama.