Development Leaders Respond To Future Pipe Pull Out

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - How is Harrison County going to recover from Future Pipe's allegation that the area's workforce isn't reliable? A Future Pipe executive made that statement on Friday when he announced that the Gulfport plant was closing. Now, development leaders are assuring the world that south Mississippians are more than capable of running manufacturing plants.

The Future Pipe spokesman is former Harrison County Development Commission Director Mike Olivier. On Friday, he said, "Everybody knows there's a problem. And we have to find a solution to correct it."

Area leaders realize that one comment could make it a lot tougher for the Harrison County Development Commission to recruit new manufacturers to the area.

Larry Barnett is the current development commission director.

"A community certainly doesn't want a message like that going out," he said.

Barnett would rather have the world see what he sees from his desk at the Harrison County Development Commission's main office.

"We have a good workforce here," he boasted.

Trinity Yachts is one of the manufacturers Barnett cites as a positive example of life on the Bernard Bayou industrial seaway. Clyde Gentry got a job at Trinity two years ago.

"This job has been the greatest opportunity in my life," he said.

Gentry and a thousand other workers joined the Trinity family when it moved from its hurricane damaged New Orleans plant to Gulfport.

Billy Smith acknowledges that his team "is loyal." Smith is a Trinity executive.

"I think they're very efficient. And I think they take a lot of pride in what they do," he said.

Future Pipe executives said workforce struggles were a key reason why they were leaving Gulfport this December.

"Unfortunately, it's a workforce issue. Since the storm, our workforce reliability [in South Mississippi] is not what it has been in the past," Olivier said.

Yet, when Trinity's top man looked around his 10 acre yacht building plant, he saw quality workmanship that was unmatched anywhere in the world.

"We're very happy with our workforce in Mississippi," Smith said.

Gentry credited Mississippi values for the quality workmanship.

"We all just have to come out here and put our heart into it, and work hard," he said.

That's the message Larry Barnett hopes the manufacturing industry focuses on when it looks at Harrison County and its post Katrina workforce.

"We have many industries that are very pleased with the workforce and the quality of the work that they produce in our community," said Barnett.

Trinity Yacht's biggest problem is finding enough workers to complete its contracts in a timely fashion. Billy Smith says he needs to hire as many as 300 more workers to fill his orders.