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Mississippi State Port experiencing healthy export growth

Gulfport — Exporting is growing at the Mississippi State Port as the international facility explores new avenues of service. Current shipping percentages are 60% import and 40% export.

“That’s about as close to balance as it can get,” said executive director Don Allee. “We are having a great year and will continue to foster that with exports as a major thrust.”

The port is known as a major exporter of frozen poultry and forest products. Last year, 200,000 tons of frozen poultry and 111,168 tons of linerboard were exported. Allee says anything that will go into a container, from toothpaste to diapers, can be shipped. Speed and safety are the keys. The port has on-site freezer warehouse space adjacent to where the ships tie up.

The largest portion of the poultry is exported to Cuba, Guatemala, Russia and Ukraine. Paper products, with linerboard as the main one, go to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Cotton and textiles are shipped to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and resins to Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala.

“We’ve tried to specialize,” he said. “Our philosophy is to be number one in service and handling of forest products and poultry. We will continuously satisfy our customers and help them grow their businesses. Our major tenants are having success in Latin America with 5% to 8% growth.”

Lately, the port has emerged as a used automobile exporter. Buyers from Central America — mostly Honduras and Guatemala — come to the United States and buy used cars at auctions. Some of the cars are damaged, but the cost to import and repair is more affordable than importing new cars to those countries where no automobiles are manufactured.

“The import cost on a new car is high, so this is consumer driven,” Allee said. “I’ve had people ask me why all these wrecked cars are sitting at the port.”

A significant amount of exporting is being done with Cuba, although with the embargo firmly in place it won’t grow that much, he says. The State Port was the first U.S. port in 40 years to resume trade with the Communist island nation. The exports are mostly frozen poultry and lumber to help the people rebuild. In 2001, the first year, 2,500 tons of frozen poultry were exported to Cuba. Shipments of poultry, livestock and raw textiles continue. Last year, 60,000 tons of cargo were exported there.

On two occasions, the Mississippi State Port has been a staging area for live cattle bought by Cuba and exported in specialized containers.

Allee says the port’s trade development mission consists of protecting existing clients and prospecting. “We assist our clients with growth and try to keep them in that mode,” he said. “We also develop contacts and look for buyers. It’s a competitive thing, and we’re aggressive when it comes to selling.”

A lot of development is based on business retention. He said clients are not bashful about telling port officials what they need.

When it comes to prospecting, the State Port wants to be on the cutting edge of helping companies making transportation decisions. “We try to develop goodwill and are constantly trying to demonstrate why our port should be chosen over others in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

He noted that the port is number three in the Gulf behind two giants, number one Houston and number two New Orleans. A lot of research, thought and examination of data goes into preparations before going on trade missions.

The current expansion project is destined to assist in developing more growth at the port too. “It’s going well and will add sorely needed capacity,” Allee said. “I’m hesitant to say that it’s ahead of schedule, but it is.”

The expansion involves reclaiming 60 acres of land to the west of the present facilities and a new command and control center to include security, personnel, communications system, surveillance system, intrusion alarm monitors and fire detection systems. Another 24 acres of land that will be reclaimed for the East Pier facility is scheduled for completion in July 2007.

The entire port is designated as a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) with 55,000 square feet of warehouse space currently activated in the program. Off port, FTZ industrial parks, warehouses, air cargo and distribution facilities are available for use.

The port is also pursuing the cruise industry and feels the Gulfport location offers advantages to this fast-growing segment of the tourism industry. Some of those advantages include, existing berth and wharf capabilities, ease of navigation, airport facilities with convenient flights and the availability of gaming.

The Mississippi State Port Authority is an enterprise agency of the State of Mississippi and is governed by the Mississippi Development Authority and the Port Authority Board of Commissioners.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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