Port Of Gulfport Ready For More Competitive Market

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- On Thursday, the port of New Orleans announced it wants to spend more than $1 billion in upgrades. Among the improvements are measures that would nearly triple capacity for cargo containers over the next five years.

New Orleans is just one of several ports along the Gulf of Mexico that is either planning, or in the middle of major expansions. Officials at the Port of Gulfport say they've been planning ahead for this.

"It's a very competitive industry that we're in, the port business," said Port of Gulfport Director Don Allee.

The Port of Gulfport does enough business to make it the third busiest container port on the Gulf of Mexico. The director says expect more business to head to the Gulf.

"With the expansion that's coming to the Panama Canal, a $5 billion plus expansion that will be on line by year 2015. That simply means more ships, more containers coming into the U.S. Gulf Market and they'll have a variety of ports to select from," Allee said.

Some of those choices include here in Gulfport, as well as New Orleans, Mobile, Houston, and Tampa - all of which are in expansion mode. In Gulfport, plans are to add about 100 acres.

"I think the ports that are prepared for that kind of growth with the right kind of facilities and the right labor force and the right labor support, you're going to see a great opportunity specifically here in the Port of Gulfport.

Each year about 200,000 containers come through the Port of Gulfport. The port would like to grow that to 500,000. But not everyone is thrilled about how the port wants to expand, so port officials are taking a second look at those plans.

"What we're doing right now is just revisiting alternative configurations, if you will," said Allee. "But we are not losing sight of the fact that we are a maritime facility."

With so many ports expanding, Allee say there is a danger there won't be enough container business to go around, but he expects Gulfport will do fine.

"It's not a concern," said Allee. "You just have to be prepared to compete. I'm prepared to compete."

The plans being pushed by the Port of New Orleans would give it a capacity of 1.3 million cargo containers by 2013.