by Brian Lamar, Assignment Editor
Soon, a new director will begin shaping the economic future of the Port of Gulfport and the state of Mississippi.
Filling big shoes left behind by previous port executive director and CEO Jonathan Daniels, incoming director Jon Nass plans to continue the successes in the day-to-day operations left behind, but build on new successes through opportunities in local economic development.
Nass, who is the outgoing chief executive officer for the Maine Port Authority, is leaving behind friends, family, and a legacy. When he began working for the state of Maine more than 10 years ago, he set his sights on missions to support economic development.
Through diligent research, he found that Maine was rife with craft breweries. More than 100 craft breweries had sprung up and were starting to cannibalize each other because sales within the state couldn’t internally support the industry. That’s when Nass went to work visiting Iceland and Northern European countries. Before long, Maine craft beer was literally being exported by the boatloads giving the breweries a chance to capitalize on a global market.
“When I first got involved up here [Maine] ten years ago, I had taken a job with the governor’s office. My real mission was to support economic development. Since then, even with the pandemic, the imports are up from this time last quarter, and exports are up 170 percent,” said Nass.
Nass has a business philosophy for ports that could give Gulfport an additional advantage. According to Nass, The notion of small ports trading to other small ports has a lot of potential to grow.
Nass also believes ports are important assets and an important part of a community and he plans to spend the summer with his listening ears on. His goal for the PoG is to gather intel inside and outside of the port to see how the port can support businesses in the region and grow as an organization.
“Right out of the gate I plan to start meeting with the port staff. I am a firm believer that meeting people and listening to people and learning their thoughts about the facility and where they see it in five years will help establish ownership of the port on every level,” said Nass. “I think the question on how to keep the port successful is a very simple answer, come and listen to folks and tap into their vast knowledge around the port of things that were tried and didn’t work so well. Learn from past lessons learned and utilize best practices”.
“I am excited to get down to Gulfport and optimize that facility. It is a beautiful facility. I think there is room for growth and diversification at the port,” Nass said.
Nass also looks forward to the Port partnering with education. In Maine, he is a big proponent for partnering with schools to use his hub as a way to learn. Currently, the schools near the Port of Maine are working on a program called “What’s in the box? It is a Six-weeks curriculum centered around logistics. Students use classroom skills to conquer problems like “Learn how to measure volume” by identifying the process for loading shipping containers. There is plenty of math and problem solving involved, according to Nass.
Nass, who has a varied background of experience believes he was chosen for this position because the commission in charge of hiring him was looking for someone with a broad skill set and knowing enough about the daily operation. They seemed most interested in economic development, according to Nass.
“My career history seemed to fit what they were looking for. I have always been a generalist. I have found myself successful in a wide variety of areas. I have dealt with homeland security issues and port security. I have a legal background. I am a recovering lawyer. I don’t plan to practice law anymore, but my legal knowledge can come in handy,” Nass explained.
Nass also states that he wants to help Mississippi businesses have new opportunities to get raw products and materials in or out cheaper in similar ways to how he helped the Maine Craft Beer industry.
All work and no play could make Nass a dull boy, but to offset the demanding role ahead of him, he is looking to let off steam with a new hobby.
“I have recently become a cyclist. I have been a mountain biker for 20 plus years. I recently have got into road cycling. It is very cerebral. It is something that I enjoy and it keeps me in shape physically and mentally. I get to turn things off and pedal,” said Nass.
Upon his first visit, culture shock didn’t scare him away. Nass states that everyone has been extremely nice and welcoming. So far, he has found a new love at Chimney’s restaurant in Gulfport. “I tried Royal Reds at Chimney’s. I loved it. It was delicious,” Nass explained.
Nass also had a chance to try Half Shell on his first visit after being appointed to his position. Nass states that he hasn’t tried crawfish yet, but is accustomed to similar messy culinary traditions having previously lived in Washington and has affections for blue crab and will miss his lobster in Maine.