From Mississippi Development Guide 2023

Kings of the Sea

Mississippi flexes its maritime muscle.

Launch of the destroyer Ted Stevens, Aug. 15, 2023
Photo courtesy of HII


olt by bolt, hull by hull, turret by turret, some of the U.S. Navy’s most lethal warships are crafted with painstaking care by Mississippi shipworkers at a sprawling dockyard in Pascagoula. That’s where Ingalls Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, has churned out dozens of increasingly complex Arleigh-Burke- class destroyers — now anchors of the Navy — with more on the way. Ingalls Shipbuilding employs a juggernaut of close to 11,000 workers. It’s the largest manufacturing employer in all of Mississippi, the yard in Pascagoula having helped sustain generations of shipyard pros.

Late last June, when the Navy took delivery of the guided missile destroyer USS Jack H. Lucas (DGG 125) from the Ingalls shipyard, the moment marked the launch of Flight III, the latest incarnation of the Arleigh Burke-class, a line of warships made in Pascagoula since 1991. 

“Watching Jack H. Lucas sail away is a proud moment for our entire DDG shipbuilding team,” Ingalls Shipbuilding DDG Program Manager Ben Barnett said. “Our shipbuilders will follow this first Flight III destroyer with honor as it joins the fleet as one of the most highly capable destroyers we have delivered.”

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are technologically-advanced, multi-mission ships that can take on multiple operations — from peacetime presence and crisis management to sea control and power projection. Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers incorporate some crucial advances. The Jack H. Lucas — shortly followed to sea by the USS Ted Stevens (DDG 128) —includes the AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) and a significant upgrade to the legendary Aegis Baseline 10 Combat System, both designed to keep pace with the threats well into the 21st century, says the Navy.

“Delivering the first Flight III ship reflects the relentless efforts of our shipbuilders and those of our Navy and supplier partners,” Ingalls Shipbuilding president Kari Wilkinson said in a company statement. “We are committed to maintaining a consistent and resilient destroyer production team in order to be ready to support the Navy and our country.”

Bollinger Bolsters its Presence

Bollinger Shipyards is the other big maritime presence in Pascagoula. Louisiana-based Bollinger, the largest privately owned and operated shipbuilder in the U.S., purchased the former VT Halter Marine in 2022, acquiring in the process four shipyards in the Pascagoula area totaling 378 acres.

“The Pascagoula facilities are strategically located with direct, deepwater access to the Gulf of Mexico.”
— Bollinger Shipyards

“The Pascagoula facilities,” Bollinger said in a statement, “are strategically located with direct, deepwater access to the Gulf of Mexico.” A year later, the company announced plans to close its location in New Orleans and shift the bulk of its work to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Bollinger says the Pascagoula location is capable of producing Panamax-sized vessels of up to 50,000 deadweight tonnage, among the largest commercial behemoths being built today.

In addition to producing tugboats, supply boats, lift boats and other specialty vessels, Bollinger assumed Halter Marine’s existing contracts covering ships for the Department of Defense. They include the Polar Security Cutter program for the U.S. Coast Guard and the Auxiliary Personnel Lighter-Small program for the Navy. Bollinger also is building the latest Pathfinder-class oceanographic survey ship for the Military Sealift Command.

Swimming Among the Big Fish

Smaller ship and boat builders matter, as well, focusing as they do on the construction and repair of vessels ranging from recreational boats to barges, tugs and fishing vessels. Located on the lower Mississippi River, Mississippi Marine Corporation is a full-service shipyard in Greenville that serves both the inland and offshore communities. With six drydocks and dozens of experienced shipyard workers, Mississippi Marine specializes in towboat and barge repair and renovation, boasting that “we’re ready to serve you when you need it — not when we can get to it.”

Two major investments from 2023 are bringing more than 100 new jobs between them. In May, Canada’s Connor Industries, which makes welded aluminum luxury and emergency response vessels, announced plans to invest $8 million and create 56 jobs in Northern Mississippi’s Coahoma County. The new location will allow the company to manufacture and test boats year-round on the mighty Mississippi. To facilitate the investment, local and state officials agreed to fund infrastructure improvements including construction of a river dock landing and a new road over levee.

“We are grateful to all those in local, state and the federal U.S. government who have helped in the recruitment and funding of infrastructure necessary for Connor Industries to expand in Coahoma County,” said Connor Industries founder and CEO Bill Connor. “We are excited for the growth opportunities for our company represented by this expansion.”

Homegrown Avid Boats in Monroe County — struck by a springtime tornado — opted to clear the rubble and go even bigger, announcing plans in November to expand from its original 85,000-sq.-ft. facility to 100,000 sq. ft. to accommodate projected future growth. The company plans to hire 50 new workers over the next five years.

“Despite the challenges we faced with the tornado, we are not just rebuilding, we are expanding,” said Avid Boats owner Phillip Faulkner. “This expansion,” Faulkner said, “is a testament to our dedication to producing high-quality aluminum fishing boats and our belief in Mississippi’s economic future.” 

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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