TopShip is no more

By Steve Wilson
February 18, 2019

A widely-hailed economic development deal hatched in 2016 is no more.

story by the Sun-Herald says that a $36 million deal to bring a shipyard and 1,000 jobs to Gulfport by Edison Chouest Offshore subsidiary TopShip has been dead since December.

The Mississippi Development Authority told the Sun-Herald that it failed to meet benchmarks for a $68 million investment and completed construction. TopShip proposed reducing its investment to $34 million and only 250 employees, but state officials refused to budge on the original requirements.

TopShip was supposed to receive $11 million in bond funds plus tax and other incentives that could’ve added up to $25 million to refurbish its facility on the Industrial Canal, which was formerly owned by Huntingdon Ingalls.

Chouest already had a shipyard right down the road from the new one.

According to the Sun-Herald story, Harrison County invested $12 million in Hurricane Katrina recovery funds to open the Gulf Ship yard in 2006. The week before the announcement in February 2016, Gulf Ship laid off workers and was down to only 110 employees, according to the Sun-Herald.

statement from MDA said TopShip did not receive any state funds.

Analysis by the Institutes for Higher Education said that the project would generate a net positive annual return for Mississippi starting in 2017.

The Port of Gulfport received $567 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This money for the “Port of the Future” was predicated on the port creating 1,300 jobs, with many of them supposed to go to low-income residents.

HUD allowed the port to consider 326 jobs at a casino hotel located on property owned by the port. According to the most recent status report issued by the port in 2017, the facility now has created 425 jobs verified by HUD.

Chouest did a similar shell game in Louisiana with incentives. In 2008, WVUE TV reported that Pelican State taxpayers invested $42 million for Chouest to build a shipyard in Houma and hire 1,000 employees.

The company closed a nearby shipyard that it also owned, the North American Fabricators Facility, and the state told WVUE TV that it simply transferred jobs from the old shipyard to the new one.

In August 2012, Louisiana officials amended the agreement to give Chouest more time to meet the job creation goals.

TopShip was known during the February 5, 2016 special session as “Project Crawfish” and was part of a $274 million incentive deal that also lured a Continental Tire plant to Hinds County.

The process to pass the bill in the special session only took five hours from bill drafting to Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature.

The state’s record on economic development incentives is filled with some successes, like Nissan, Toyota and Yokohama.

But for every success, there is the infamous beef plant in Yalobusha County, which cost the state more than $50 million in guaranteed loans, and biofuel producer KiOR, which owes the state more than $69 million on a no-interest loan.

Stion Solar owes the state $93 million after it shuttered its solar plant in Hattiesburg.


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