TopShip: A Top-Down Economic Development Deal Is Dead

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Bigger Pie Forum | TopShip: A Top-Down Economic Development Deal Is Dead | BPF
 
It can’t be said enough, but policymakers in Jackson shouldn’t be venture capitalists.
Another sad example of the misguided policy of providing companies with a raft of incentives that include bond money and specifically targeted tax breaks was TopShip, a division of Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO).
The state was to provide TopShip with $36 million from bond money borrowed on the taxpayers’ credit card, tax incentives and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development block grant funds allocated to the Port of Gulfport. The plan was to refurbish a defunct Huntington Ingalls facility on the Industrial Canal in Gulfport that built composite deckhouses and convert it to build boats to supply offshore drilling rigs.
ECO already owned a shipyard, Gulf Ship, just 1.8 miles from the TopShip location. Gulf Ship received money from Harrison County after Hurricane Katrina.
The shipyard was supposed to employ 1,000 workers with ECO investing $68 million. It’d help the Port of Gulfport meet its job creation requirement (1,300 jobs, many of which were supposed to go to low-income people) for its $567 million in HUD grant money originally intended to build low income housing after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
A special session in the Mississippi Legislature in 2016 lasted only five hours as the Legislature took little, if any time to debate the $274 million incentive package. The biggest part of the then-secret deal was Continental Tire, which is building a tire plant in western Hinds County and code named “Project Potter,” and TopShip, which was known as “Project Crawfish.”
A few days later in Gulfport, Gov. Phil Bryant and other state leaders announced the TopShip plan. That same day, ECO’s Gulf Ship yard laid off workers.
ECO blamed the downturn in the offshore oil industry — which

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