Director: Port of Gulfport project will create promised jobs

January 16, 2014
Anita Lee

Port of Gulfport announcement expected

GULFPORT -- The state port's executive director, Jonathan Daniels, assured community members Thursday night an expansion and restoration project funded with $570 million from the federal government will create the jobs promised.

Daniels said he and the port staff are working every day to attract new tenants. "The interest that the industry has in this port project and in the economic development process has far exceeded anything I could have imagined," he told about 40 people gathered at a community center in North Gulfport for a meeting of the Port Campaign Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations monitoring the port project.

The group has long been skeptical of the project because past claims by port leaders, including job numbers and the expansion's size, have far exceeded reality. Daniels, who came on board in June, acknowledged the port is not aiming to be the size of the port of Los Angeles. It wouldn't fit the community, he said.
"What we're trying to build is a sustainable port," he said.

Gulfport Councilman Truck Casey, a union member who has worked for more than 30 years at the port, has been impressed with Daniels. "He's a people person," Casey said.

Still, coalition members are concerned about the number of low- to moderate-income jobs the port project will create, especially because port expansion means more truck and train traffic, with a new highway and upgraded rail line, through low-income neighborhoods.

The port is using federal Katrina recovery dollars for the project. In exchange for federal funding, the project must create 1,200 permanent jobs. Reilly Morse, an attorney who heads the Mississippi Center for Justice, believes regulations actually call for 1,300 jobs.

In his presentation, Morse reviewed the port's shrinking job-creation projections. He also pointed out the port currently has only 814 full-time employees, with 19 temporary construction jobs created in 2013. Only eight of those temporary jobs went to low- or moderate-income residents.

"We've got to do better than that," he said.

The coalition also wants to work with port officials on plans to lessen pollution from the expansion.

The port's governing commission this morning will consider joining Green Marine, a voluntary environmental program for ports and maritime companies. The coalition has long pushed for an environmental program at the port and wants to see a written plan.

Daniels talked about landscaping to ease the transition between the port property and downtown Gulfport, and reducing emissions from trucks, but the coalition is pushing for broader environmental safeguards and upgrades.