By JACK WEATHERLY
TopShip LLC promised to create 1,000 jobs at the Port of Gulfport, part of what was hailed earlier this month as the single biggest day in economic development in the state’s history.
Gov. Phil Bryant has said that the 1,000 jobs would largely meet an agreement reached during Haley Barbour’s administration to create 1,300 jobs in exchange for $566 million in federal money originally allocated for low-income housing on the Mississippi coast after Hurricane Katrina but shifted to port restoration.
Fifty-one percent of the 1,300 jobs, or 663, must be for low- to moderate-income individuals in exchange for the federal money shift.
The Mississippi Development Authority’s agreement with TopShip calls for 700 jobs to be created within three years of the completion of work on the port, Dec. 31, 2020 at the latest, according to the agreement with MDA, a copy of which was provided to the Mississippi Business Journal.
There is no federal government deadline on the completion of port restoration, which is nevertheless expected to be in 2017. The congressional authorization of the shifting of the money did not set a deadline, according to HUD.
Of those 700 TopShip jobs, 51 percent, or 357, must be for low- to -moderate income individuals. Another 300 are to be created within five years of the start of commercial production, but “are not required to meet a low- to -moderate income requirement since they are tied to state bond funds, not (HUD) funds.”
An earlier version of this article said the 300 jobs could not be counted at all toward the 1,300-job agreement reached with HUD.
Community Development Block Grant money totaling $25 million was “allocated for infrastructure improvements for the TopShip project,” in exchange for the first 700 jobs, the Mississippi Development Authority said in an email in response to questions from the Journal.
TopShip will make vessels to service the off-shore oil drilling industry.
TopShip, a subsidiary of Louisiana-based Edison Chouest, said it would invest $68 million, while on the same day Continental Tire, subsidiary of a German-based conglomerate, agreed to invest $1.45 billion in a plant in Hinds County and provide 2,500 jobs, while the average annual pay at each would be $40,000.
The state committed to a $275 million incentives package for the projects, including tax breaks and loans.
Bryant has made it clear that these commitments are made in established industries, in contrast to state-backed ventures in alternative fuels projects under Barbour, his immediate predecessor, which failed, leaving the state chasing repayment.
Another source of jobs could be the Island View Casino Hotel, which is located on port property, which reopened April 29 after being vacant for more than a decade. It is expected to employ 300.
Yet the port does not have a memorandum of understanding with Island View, “which is required in order for jobs to be counted toward the 1,300 required by HUD,” MDA said in the email.
Still, such positions could be counted toward the ultimate goal, as there is no definition of “maritime” jobs in the HUD deal, Daron Wilson, then chief operating officer for the MDA disaster recovery division, said last July. Wilson is currently the interim director of MDA’s Visit Mississippi division.
Yet port Director Jonathan Daniels said this week the perception that jobs creation is slow is wrong.
For one thing, the port restoration is far from completed, he said.
Thus far, only about 100 of the 1,300 jobs have been certified by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development thus far.
McDermott International commenced pipeline finishing operations at the port in December, and its 100 jobs will be counted in the next report to HUD for the quarter ending March 31, Daniels noted. Longshoremen will be used while vessels are at the port, he added.
The port has had its critics from the outset of the restoration project. The proposal to shift $566 million from housing for low-income residents of three coastal counties 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 Barbour reached an agreement to use $132 million for low- and moderate income housing.
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