A legacy of leading exploration. An outlook for outstanding growth.
It might seem unusual for a port serving as integral element of a launching pad for intergalactic exploration would be named for an 18th century explorer, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the founder of New Orleans. But then colonies in space might not have seemed unusual to one of the most successful colonizers of what was then known as the “New World.”
Seeing and exploring new worlds—and new worlds of opportunity—has been the mission and the achievement of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission since its founding in 1963.
A strategic vision: The race to the Moon was on in 1963 and the construction of NASA’s new rocket testing facility underway, when the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission was formed. With a seaport urgently needed, the new Commission moved immediately and with strategic vision, contracting Michael Baker, the nationally respected engineering firm, to identify the right location, a prime spot on the Pearl River. Ideas for development soon expanded to include an industrial park and an airport, and by 1966 a master plan and funding were in place, and 2,200 acres were purchased from the International Paper Company at an initial investment of $6 million.
Infrastructure investments: Those actions were all a good start, but the Commission realized more should be done. By 1968, the Port’s channels were being dredged, including the widened channel at the Port’s upper end for an easier turning basin, and 538 acres of land were cleared for the West Hancock County Industrial Park. The next year, a shortline railroad was added. Meanwhile at the airport, the Commission purchased an additional 530 acres for an airport industrial park.
Finally, in 1970, seven years after the Harbor Commission was founded, the Gulf Center Airport-Stennis Field opened.
That same year, the Commission made more far-sighted investments. First, the Commission provided financial support for Federal government’s involvement in the construction of the commercial fishing marina at Bayou Cadet. And when the Board of Supervisors suggested the creation of a recreational park in the Jackson Ridge Area, Commission support helped transform the idea into reality.
A vision realized, an investment reaping returns: Today, all of the Commission’s investments have paid off handsomely. The initial investment of $6 million for the industrial acreage generated an additional $1.5 billion in private investment, ultimately producing today’s current employment of 1,200. The shortline railroad now connects to CSX, which in turn connects Hancock County industry to markets throughout the Eastern U.S., from the southern tip of Florida to Canada.
The recreational park, nestled amidst moss-draped live oaks, spectacular marshlands and Gulf vistas, became Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi’s most visited park.
As for the 30-year bond issued in 1972 for approximately $1 million, the bond was paid off nine years ahead of schedule.
Other changes have occurred: the Port was renamed in honor of Bienville, the airport renamed in honor of Senator John Stennis, with passenger service approved in 1992. At the Stennis Space Center, lunar exploration gave way to the shuttle program, and today, the Space Center is actively engaged with NASA’s deep space exploration and with the efforts of commercial leaders such as Space X.
The Moon is behind us. Mars is next.
And so the race continues with new worlds ahead, even as the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission continues to exercise strategic vision, and to actively explore new worlds of opportunity for industry and residents of Hancock County.