Hayward announces 200 new jobs at Port of Pensacola

A new manufacturing facility at the Port of Pensacola is expected to bring as many as 200 new jobs and $52 million in capital investment to the city, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced Thursday.

The project, a partnership between existing port tenant Offshore Inland and Houston-based Deepflex, will make use of an existing warehouse and 3.5 acres of undeveloped land. The facilities, expected to be operational by the second half of 2015, would manufacture and test flexible, deep sea piping for use in the global oil and gas industry.

Port Director Amy Miller said Thursday the project was one of “historic” significance for the city, which promised to strengthen the area’s workforce and further differentiate the port from competitors in the region.

“As this city grows, it needs economic diversity,” Miller said, “and this project, along with other work going on at the port, will be an economic engine that will create great jobs and opportunities downtown … I think it represents a turning point into a new niche for the port in the offshore services industry.”

Buddy McCormick, vice president of offshore operations for Offshore Inland, said the facilities would require a wide range of workers — from engineers making six figures to laborers making $18 to $20 per hour. The average salary for the positions would be in the $60,000 range, McCormick said.

Area leaders and economists greeted Thursday’s announcement with enthusiasm.

“I think that projects such as this — that service the offshore drilling and exploration fleet — are among the very highest and best uses of our valuable port property,” local economist Rick Harper said.

Harper, who heads the Office of Economic Development and Engagement at the University of West Florida, said the deal underscored city leaders’ efforts to distance the port from the bulk cargo industry — in keeping with what the mayor’s Port Advisory Committee recommended in 2011. Harper said the cargo market was not the best use of the port, as it was typically more competitive, employed lower-wage workers and created less economic activity relative to available land.

In contrast, “these sub-sea vessel service operations employ a highly skilled workforce and have the potential to build a long-lasting competitive advantage for Pensacola,” Harper said.

McCormick said this week’s announcement could set the stage for future expansion of the companies’ operations in the city. Deepflex will use their facility to manufacture a new product that McCormick said was half the weight and four times as durable as any other piping on the market today.

Deepflex has big plans. President and CEO Felipe Lamego told the Houston Business Journal late last year that the company was interested in expanding its global operations. This week’s announcement sets the stage for that growth.

McCormick said Thursday that the Pensacola plant would replace Deepflex’s existing factory in Wisconsin. When that happens, the company will roughly double its workforce, setting the stage for future expansion of its manufacturing operations into Brazil, where the company has a small office.

“This is just the initial stage,” McCormick said.

At a press conference Thursday morning, Hayward suggested the city was well positioned to build on that foundation.

“The constant modernization of subsea oil and natural gas production, combined with our nation’s renewed dedication to reducing dependence on foreign oil, has provided new opportunities for our historic port to play an important role in our city’s economic growth and diversification,” he said.

Harper agreed.

“Because the port is so close to the pass and open water, we’re going to be very competitive in attracting this sort of business,” he said, adding that the design and engineering jobs associated with the industry would make “ideal tenants” for the city’s languishing technology park.

The Offshore Inland-Deepflex deal is being made possible by $6.6 million in state and local incentives, Sen. Don Gaetz said at the conference. The incentives, two-thirds of which Gaetz said were to come from local government, are contingent on the companies living up to performance measurements — including the level of capital investment and the number and wage-level of the jobs created.

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