By Jack Weatherly
A Louisiana-based shipbuilder failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline on investments and hiring at the Port of Gulfport and thus Mississippi officials voided an incentive deal.
The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) turned down a proposal by Edison Chouest Offshore’s Topship subsidiary to cut in half its commitment of an investment of $68 million and creation of 1,000 jobs.
The deal with Topship was announced in February 2016 by the Legislature on the same day that Gov. Phil Bryant announced that Continental Tire AG agreed to invest $1.45 billion and create 2,500 jobs in Hinds County.
The state borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars and committed to extensive breaks for the companies.
The joint announcement was touted as the biggest single day in economic development in Mississippi history.
The completion of the restoration and expansion of the port after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was celebrated by port, state and local officials in December, though it will not be official until the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) signs off on it.
Nearly $570 million was shifted for port restoration from HUD money set aside initially to restore housing for low- to middle income residents who lost shelter during the storm.
In return, the MDA agreed that the port would create 1,300 jobs, 51 percent of which were to be targeted for low- to middle-income individuals.
MDA spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said recently that the MDA never paid any of the $36 million it promised, which would have included $11 million in borrowed money and $25 million from the HUD money, according to the Associated Press.
As of September 2018, a total of 587 jobs had been created and verified by HUD, port spokeswoman Kimberly Aguillard said Wednesday. Of that number, 63.5 percent, or 352 jobs, were for low- to -middle income individuals.
Those figures do not include jobs created for the International Longshoremen’s Association and for truckers, which the port will submit to HUD, Aguillard said.
The port has three years to meet the jobs mandate from the date that HUD okays the work on the port, Aguillard said. The clock could start running on that within 30 to 40 days following a HUD visit next week, she said.
The Port Authority bought 116 acres on the 250-acre port for $32 million for Topship, which has paid for half of that and is making monthly lease payments of $85,000, not including interest, according to the AP report.
Topship builds vessels to service offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico but oil extraction has slowed in the past few years because of low commodity prices and increasing production on land due the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Topship is using the land, Daniels said, which includes 350,000 square feet of covered space and rail-mounted cranes.
“The project or projects certainly haven’t developed the way we had hoped,” Daniels said, “but we are willing to work with them so that they can maximize use of the site for job creation and business development. It’s a very flexible facility. It really could prove for a very unique production space.”
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