Baldwin County approves $300,000 for workforce training study

Government Editor
Posted 12/23/22

FAIRHOPE — County commission funding for a $300,000 study could be the next step in the first four-year college being built in Baldwin County, supporters said.Commissioners agreed to pay for …

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Baldwin County approves $300,000 for workforce training study


FAIRHOPE — County commission funding for a $300,000 study could be the next step in the first four-year college being built in Baldwin County, supporters said.

Commissioners agreed to pay for the study for a center planned in Foley that would include a workforce training center and an education facility offering courses in conjunction with the University of South Alabama and Coastal Alabama Community College.

At a work session in November, commissioners questioned the request, saying they needed more information before going forward with the funding. On Monday, Dec. 19, commissioners met with supporters of the project from the cities Foley and Orange Beach as well as area chambers and the Workforce Development Authority to discuss the proposal.

Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich said the study is the first step in getting a four-year college campus in Baldwin County.

"The plan is and what's important to us is that we're going after a training facility that, basically, the base of is a four-year college," Hellmich said. "It will be the first one, a four-year college campus in Baldwin County, which I think benefits everybody in this room."

Hellmich said state Sen. Chris Elliott, R-District 32, and other Baldwin legislators are supporting state funding for the project.

"This plan has been coming together for a couple of years, and right now our legislative delegation, led by Sen. Eliot, are talking to some of the leaders in both the House and the Senate. Last year when he was approached, he said if you guys have a plan then we will fund this to a degree."

Hellmich said the city of Foley is providing the land for the site. He said Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are also supporting the plan.

The project would create a facility on a campus in Foley near the Baldwin Beach Express. Students could take part in training for the local hospitality industry and take college classes supported by USA and CACC, according to reports.

Hellmich said University of South Alabama President Jo Bonner and officials with Coastal Alabama Community College also support the plan.

"Everybody felt the same thing, that having a workforce training facility that also had educational components to it is a win for this entire county," Hellmich said. "That's really the goal that our council is has concentrated on. It's not only as a four-year college. We have Coastal Community College. They have dedicated in part with USA."

The mayor said, however, that without the study, the plan will not move forward.

"Right now, where we are is we need to fund the economic development impact study that that will go to the legislature, that will show the bottom line of what is campus in this training facility will be, for not just Foley, but for South Baldwin and for Baldwin County," Hellmich said. "So, we're prepared to work with them. It depends on the money. Without the money from the state legislature, this is all a dream. Because Jo Bonner and all of them said basically, we can't afford to build it with our priorities that we have to do within our school. But once it's built, then we can expand it. We will stay. We will stay involved in the campus. We will then be able to go into the Education Trust Fund will be able to go after the general fund to expand it again."

Hellmich said the initial project cost is $30-$50 million.

The county would pay for the $300,000 study with money from the American Rescue Plan Act, known as ARPA.

Commissioners said Monday the study would be a good use of the money.

Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood said she supports the idea but that in earlier meetings county officials had not received enough information to approve the request.

"We had questions in our work sessions," she said. "It showed up on our agenda as an ask, and the questions was studies get done, studies get put on the shelf. Where is the participation from the other entities?"

Commissioner Jeb Ball also said he supported the plan.

"I think this is one of the best investments we can make," Ball said.