By Jack Weatherly
Completion of the restoration and expansion of the Port of Gulfport, begun during the administration of then-Gov. Haley Barbour, is about six months away, and jobs creation is “trending” toward meeting the terms of nearly $570 million from the federal government.
That is the assessment of Jonathan Daniels, executive director of the port.
Daniels said in an interview Tuesday that rebuilding and expansion of the port is “really beginning to wind down.”
As of April 13, $459 million of the federal money had been disbursed, according to Daniels.
New jobs certifications by the Mississippi Development Authority on Thursday brought the total to 557, including 108 from McDermott International, a submersible pipe manufacturer and 32 from Gulf Coast Shipyard Group
Of that number total, 326 are at the hotel side of the Island View Casino Hotel. In the past, Daniels said most of those jobs qualify for the low-to-middle category.
The $570 million was shifted from a larger pool of money that the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) allocated for rebuilding of housing for low- to mid-level individuals along the Mississippi coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In exchange for the HUD money, the Mississippi Development Authority agreed that the port would to create 1,300 jobs, 51 percent of which are to be targeted for low to middle income individuals.
Many jobs are in the pipeline, but not yet counted, which can take time.
“MDA and HUD are going through their review process to make sure all of the jobs are eligible to be counted and will notify us upon the completion of their process,” he said in an email.
McDermott’s commitment was made four years as the first major jobs announcement for the Port of Gulfport Restoration Project.
Daniels said that calculations on “additional full-time jobs associated with shipyard operations” under the control of the International Longshoreman’s Association also have not been made.
Hours logged by longshoremen rose to 290,000 hours in 2017, up from 190,000 hours the previous year, he said.
The increase of 100,000 hours would amount to about 50 to 60 full-time-equivalent jobs, though those have not been reported to the MDA and HUD to be certified because the formula has not been finalized, Daniels said.
The port recently announced it has a letter of intent with Yilport Holding, a Turkish firm, to pursue due diligence and come to terms on a lease.
Daniels would not venture a guess as to the jobs creation with Yilport, though he said that the firm’s diverse international portfolio is very attractive and the company’s business model fits with the port.
“Yilport is promising to invest hundreds of millions of dollars at the Port of Gulfport and is looking for a long-term agreement,” Daniels said in a recent news release.
Record numbers of rail cars, 12,000, and cargo, 2.5 million tons, were handled last year, he said.
“There’s still a ways to go,” Daniels said, “but we will not only meet but also to exceed what’s in our requirements.”
“We are pleased with the trend.”
The port has three years after “all ‘punch-list’ items are met and the facility is handed over to us” in late 2018 to fulfill the jobs requirement, which would include about 660 low- to middle income jobs.
The reinvigoration of the port is reflected in its finances.
The port’s “net position” increased $54.6 million in fiscal 2017 over the previous year, ending at $617.3 million, according to an audited report. The “position” is an accounting of assets and liabilities.
Operating revenues for 2017 were $21.9 million, up 35.8 percent over 2016.
Maritime revenues increased 79.3 percent, or 6 percent, primarily because of the return of Chiquita and reimbursement from the Chemours project.
The port restoration project has had its critics from the outset. The proposal to shift funding from housing to the port prompted a lawsuit by the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP and others.
The issue was resolved in November 2010 when HUD and then-Gov. Haley Barbour reached an agreement to use $132 million for low and moderate income housing.
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