MOSS POINT, Miss. (AP) - The head of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems says the Pascagoula shipyard needs more workers to keep up with a growing number of government contracts.
Ship Systems' President Phil Teel, speaking at a meeting of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce in Moss Point, said the shipyard needs 400 skilled craftsmen and 250 salaried people.
Teel said that the labor shortage threatens Northrop Grumman's ability to fulfill its commitments to the Navy.
''At the highest levels of government there are questions of whether we will be able to get that work done in the time frame they need it to be done,'' Teel said Tuesday.
Teel said Congress wants to add ships to the Navy's budget and the question is whether Pascagoula can handle the work.
The Pascagoula shipyard is Mississippi's largest private employer, with 11,000 people currently on the payroll. It is looking forward to new projects, Teel said, like the DDG-1000 war-fighting ship, which is being billed as a next-generation destroyer and will be made primarily from composites instead of steel.
The shipyard lost 100 employees as a result of a 28-day strike that ended April 4.
Since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, 59 percent of employees live in Jackson County, where the shipyard is located. The other workers live primarily in Mississippi's George and Harrison counties and Alabama's Mobile County - the three counties that surround Jackson County, Miss.
One-third of the work force lives in Mobile County, and Northrop Grumman is the largest industrial employer of people from that county, Teel said.
Teel said a housing shortage and high interest rates are keeping people living outside Jackson County. He said there is a fear that, as those other areas grow and bring in more business of their own, current employees will quit to take jobs closer to home.
''The (housing) shortage is serious, because it represents a disadvantage to companies like Northrop Grumman,'' Teel said.
Teel said the coast as a whole doesn't have enough workers. He said it will affect all businesses' abilities to perform for customers.