Plans to move McDermott International into the Port of Gulfport are well underway. News 25 spoke to both port officials and concerned members of the Steps Coalition about the direction the port is moving in.
While most view Chiquita leaving the Port of Gulfport as a negative, port executives say it actually opens up opportunities. Jonathan Daniels, the Executive Director of the Port of Gulfport, says, “We've worked very closely and did everything that we could to try and keep them. Ultimately, it was a business decision that they made, but with their departure, we have unique opportunities to be able to shift some current tenants around and open up the opportunities for some other tenants that we just didn't have when Chiquita was here.”
The Port of Gulfport is emphasizing the economic benefit that these new tenants will have. Chiquita is currently paying $10,000 per acre on their lease. The new tenant, McDermott, will be paying $65,000 per acre. Although the port is losing a number of jobs with the loss of Chiquita, they are certain they have a plan that will fill that void and meet the federally mandated requirements of 1,300 jobs by January 1st, 2020. Daniels also says, “I'm very confident, especially with the first new tenants that we've announced since 1999 that we're well on our way to meeting that goal.”
While the Port of Gulfport is confident that their plan will be successful, some are still not convinced. Howard Page of the Steps Coalition says, “We would like to see the Port Director, the M.D.A. reconsider their plan and look at a plan that spends the money and creates jobs, not just spending the money and hope that people will come, but to actually do a business plan that shows how the spending of this money will create the required number of jobs.”
The Steps Coalition wishes the port board would be more transparent with their plan to spend the half billion dollars they've been granted. Page also says, “We think Director Daniels inherited a very, very difficult job, but we think Jonathan Daniels, the Port Commission, the M.D.A. should have a plan that shows how this money will be spent and will create jobs because right now, that plan just doesn't exist.”
Page and the Steps Coalition will be at the port board meeting on July 25th to get some of these questions answered. Port of Gulfport officials say they project big and beneficial changes for the port two to three years from now with the addition of these new tenants.