The Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, this area’s economic development organization, has a new executive director, John W. Zink. The 55-year-old leader took the helm in mid-January, coming to the position with a diversified background.
A native of Baltimore, Md., he earned a degree in architecture from the University of Idaho, a masters of science from Georgia Institute of Technology and an executive education certificate from Duke University. He served 24 years in the United States Navy, retiring in 2003 after 10 years at the Seabees Base in Gulfport.
“We like it here and didn’t want to leave when I retired,” he said.
The Navy provided Zink with experience in an executive position leading an organization with multiple functions. He has found no surprises in his civilian position and is comfortable with the political environment at the local, state and federal levels because of positions held in his Navy career.
“I want to build on that environment with Hancock County,” he said. “The major focus is building that collaborative network and relationships.”
His partners in that effort include members of the Port & Harbor Commission, Hancock County Board of Supervisors, the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, Partners for Stennis, the Gulf Coast Alliance, area community colleges, the Mississippi Development Authority and state and national lawmakers.
“I’m looking to build this grand collaboration with those folks,” Zink said. “We all have to share in the same vision, and part of my job is to help shape that vision.”
Number of challenges
The Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission is facing several challenges. Zink says those include insurance issues, workforce availability, housing and Katrina fear.
“These are issues shared by the entire Gulf Coast. We’re fortunate to have Pearl River Community College and the community college system helping with some workforce programs,” he said. “I think there will be some hesitation for companies to locate here until we get some of these issues solved. We’ve tried to explain to prospects that Katrina was a rare occurrence.”
The housing situation is worse in Hancock than the other Coast counties. “This county got the brunt of the storm,” Zink said. “Some programs to restore housing are being worked by groups. A lot of smart folks are working on it.”
The organization has several good economic development prospects involving an expansion of a Port Bienville Industrial Park tenant, a possible new tenant at the Stennis Air Park and some relocations from New Orleans. “That’s all I can say now,” the executive director said.
Stennis Space Center is an important asset for the county, with numerous opportunities for additional development.