Shipbuilding adding new companies on Katrina rebound

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Published: March 6,2006

Gulfport — Gulf Coast shipbuilding received a boost with the announcement of a new industry for that sector moving into Harrison County’s Bernard Bayou Industrial Park. Gulf Ship, LLC, locating on 31.2 acres, joins three other commercial shipbuilders in this vital part of the Coast’s economy, especially as the area recovers from Hurricane Katrina.
Gulf Ship, LLC, will build proprietary hulls for Edison Chouest Offshore of Galliano, La., and its affiliated companies. Edison Chouest recently announced plans to build an additional ten 280-foot platform supply vessels for its Gulf of Mexico fleet. The new shipbuilder joins Northrop Grumman, Trinity Yachts and U.S. Marine Inc. in the Harrison County industrial seaway.

Larry Barnett, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC), says he and others, including the governor and Mississippi Development Authority, have been working with the company for about a year and a half. Gulf Coast, LLC, is a Mississippi company and is not coming to the state as a result of the storm.

“It’s very good news,” he said. “They will employ 400 people with wages that are competitive in the region. It’s an opportunity for folks here to continue to train and upgrade their skills.”

He said the new company will begin construction within 90 days of the agreement closing date, expected to be soon. The Harrison County Board of Supervisors gave final approval of the contract for sale and lease agreements at their last meeting.

Barnett said Gulf Ship could start before the main structure is up and will initially hire a work force of 250 skilled positions within 12 to 18 months.

“I’m real enthused. The Coast economy continues to create valuable jobs and that in itself is a good thing,” he said. “With four companies now engaged in active shipbuilding in the industrial seaway, in the next one to three years we will have 2,500 to 3,000 jobs in that sector.”

The best part about these diverse shipbuilders is that they may compete for the labor force but they do not compete in the marketplace. All work in different areas of the industry. Trinity Yachts builds recreational luxury yachts that range in cost from $20 to $40 million each. These exclusive yachts require woodworking skills at the level of furniture crafting.

Northrop Grumman builds composite components and ships for the U.S. Navy. U.S. Marine builds boats for the Navy Seals at Stennis Space Center and the new tenant, Gulf Ship, builds hull designs for offshore drilling rigs. Both Northrop Grumman and U.S. Marine work with the Polymer Science School at the University of Southern Mississippi in the rapidly-expanding field of polymer components.

Northrop Grumman spokesman Bill Glenn said the company is at 90% of its pre-Katrina staffing and because of infrastructure damage and labor shortage will incur some delay on programs. The company is the state’s largest private employer with 12,000 employees at the Gulfport and Pascagoula facilities. The company’s annual Mississippi payroll is $9.4 million.

“We are working with our customers to redefine delivery schedules,” he said. “We prioritized our immediate customer needs by completing two Aegis guided missile destroyers that were commissioned in January. Our ‘one sector’ Ship Systems aided our recovery and has yielded excellent results to date.”

He added that improvements are being made which will give the organization greater operational flexibility. They are engaging international and national consultants to assist in analysis and guidance and outside consultancy to ensure no efficiencies are overlooked.

“In short, we are making decisions now on investment in production processes that are accelerated in focus and delivery that will serve to strengthen our leadership position and competitiveness,” he said.

As part of hurricane recovery, the Northrop Grumman Foundations made an initial contribution of $2 million for relief along with a $1-million contribution to the American Red Cross for local communities.

“Great things are going on and it’s healthy for the labor force,” Larry Barnett said. “The labor force is known here and has a shipbuilding heritage. That ship building history will continue for a long time.”

Trinity Yachts and U.S. Marine came to Harrison County as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Both had operations in New Orleans that received heavy damage. “The storm was a thorn for everyone,” Barnett said. “We have waterfront property that’s available. That’s the bottom line. You have got to have that. And our labor force is known for shipbuilding. Those are the things that brought these companies here.”

He says now Trinity and U.S. Marine have new contracts and are “going like crazy.”

HCDC is having a study done to determine the value of shipbuilding to the Coast economy, but Barnett acknowledges the sector’s major role now and in the future.

“It’s wide open. After Katrina we have a tremendous number of opportunities,” he said. “I’m not sure we understand all we have. The industries are still talking to us that were talking to us before Katrina and Gulf Ship is a prime example of that.”

A former economic developer with Mississippi Power Company, Barnett is excited to be in his new job as executive director of HCDC and says there’s a lot of economic activity for Harrison and the other Coast counties. Companies see opportunities in the area and those that were damaged in the storm want to rebuild.

Glenn said Northrop Grumman is committed to the rebirth of the Gulf Coast and the region, as evidenced by the investments being made in their operations and the ongoing production work on current programs. In the Navy and Coast Guard shipbuilding plans announced recently, the company has the lion’s share of ships that will be built.

“The work is hard but the rewards will be great as our region rebuilds with updated technology that should result in efficiencies and capabilities not known in our area before,” he said. “The extraordinary results we are all achieving together will serve to foster prosperity in our community for generations to come.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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