By BECKY GILLETTE
The east bank, which was the original site of Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp., founded in 1938, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Recently the parent company of Ingalls, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), the state’s largest private employer, announced plans to rebuild the east bank which primarily involves the addition of large, covered manufacturing areas for construction of ship assemblies and components as well as the restoration of an outfitting pier.
“We are excited to be bringing the east bank back to life,” Ingalls Shipbuilding President Brian Cuccias said. “As we prepare to celebrate our 80th anniversary, what better way to do that than to announce that the original Ingalls facility will become a productive, vibrant part of the Pascagoula landscape once again.”
Work on the east bank project that is expected to take two years began in April. Cuccias said the reactivation will restore the facility’s ability to support Ingalls’ current ship construction and modernization programs as well as help the company better prepare for future work, including next-generation amphibious assault ships and surface combatants.
Ingalls is investing about $100 million in the east bank improvements, which are not receiving state funding support. Work is also continuing on the west bank project known as the “Shipyard of the Future.” The state is expected to provide $200 million with a match from Ingalls of $400 million towards work on the west bank.
Cuccias said work on the west bank will result in improved product flow, and better environmental conditions for shipbuilders.
“We will have more covered areas,” Cuccias said. “The weather in South Mississippi can be very harsh. Rain has a big impact. These facilities help with the rain and with the heat of the sun in the summer.”
Cuccias said they are fortunate to operate in an area that supports shipbuilding and the military at the city, county and state levels.
“Together with the State of Mississippi, we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to provide our shipbuilders the best tools and equipment and the safest, most efficient work environment possible in which to do the great work they do every single day,” Cuccias said. “Our local leaders support shipbuilding with workforce training programs, economic development incentive policies and by providing good communities in which our employees are able to raise their families—in many cases the follow-on generations of shipbuilders at Ingalls. So, when we determined we need additional facilities for our operations, it made perfect sense to do this expansion here in our hometown.”
Ingalls Shipbuilding’s decision to reactivate its facilities on the east bank of the Pascagoula River represents a major economic development success for a number of different reasons — not the least of which being that it marks another milestone of Katrina recovery, said George Freeland, executive director, Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.
“This vacant and underutilized industrial property will now be redeployed for manufacturing job creation and capital investment,” Freeland said. “The project is anticipated to result in the return of as many as 1,000 jobs to the east bank facility and will additionally leverage a west bank facility modernization project. The combined projects represent more than $500 million of private investment with $200 million of state bond issue proceeds. In that regard, the project represents a well-crafted and highly successful public-private partnership.”
Freeland said Jackson County’s manufacturing employment concentrations and wages are already some of the highest in the southeast U.S.
“The high economic multiplier of jobs created by the project will also impact and improve every facet of the regional economy,” Freeland said. “In addition, we are convinced that the east bank redevelopment has the potential to resurrect and transform surrounding commercial development in the City of Pascagoula.”
George Jones, Ingalls’ vice president for operations, said they are using proven concepts from their west bank modernization as a guide for their east bank reactivation. He said with the help of employees with innovative ideas, they have improved safety, efficiency and working conditions.
“We have some of the best shipbuilders in the country, and they deserve the best shipyard in which to work,” Jones said. “From more covered work areas and better environmental controls, to state-of-the-art tools and technology, Ingalls is leading the way in modern military ship design and construction.”
Cuccias said a major goal is keeping the shipbuilders healthy.
“The shipbuilder is the most important part of Ingalls,” he said. “You need a great facility, great equipment and great partnerships with the state, and we have that. That makes us unique in the country. The employees, which we call industrial athletes, work sometimes in not the easiest conditions and do a great job for our company and for our country.”
Ingalls invests a lot in technical training. Its training academy has just under 1,000 students in the apprentice school.
“We have a great relationship with the Gulf Coast Community College which has offices in the shipyard,” Cuccias said. “We are reaching out to the high schools in the area. We have a fantastic health care center two miles from the yard available to shipbuilders and their dependents with only a $15 co-pay for a visit and under a ten-minute waiting time. We have financial training and a top-notch security system to help keep employees safe when at work. We also spend a lot of time on safety.”
HII, which also has the Newport News shipyard in Virginia, is America’s largest military shipbuilding company. The two shipyards have built more ships in more ship classes than any other U.S. naval shipbuilder. The company employees nearly 38,000 operating both domestically and internationally with between 11,000 to 12,000 employees based in Pascagoula. For more information, visit www.huntingtoningalls.com.
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