Baldwin County commissioners pause request to fund employee housing

Guy Busby
Government Editor
guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 11/9/22

FOLEY — Baldwin County commissioners questioned a request for $300,000 for plans to build a training center and housing for workers on the Gulf Coast.At a recent county commission work session, …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Baldwin County commissioners pause request to fund employee housing

Posted

FOLEY — Baldwin County commissioners questioned a request for $300,000 for plans to build a training center and housing for workers on the Gulf Coast.

At a recent county commission work session, commissioners discussed funding for projects using money allocated for the county through the American Rescue Plan Act. One proposal was to use $300,000 to study housing needs for the center proposed on a 140-acre site on the Baldwin Beach Express.

The center planned by the South Baldwin Regional Workforce Authority would train and house workers for the tourism industry on the Gulf Coast, according to previous reports. Proposals call for a $214-million facility that would include university classes.

Commissioners said they did not oppose the project but need more answers before committing county money to the plan. Commissioner Charles "Skip" Gruber said he did not know if public money could be used to house workers employed by private companies.

"They're talking about having a college campus there," Gruber said. "Well, that won't work with housing because of dormitories versus housing. There's a lot of things they're going to have to work out before they can get anywhere."

"They have a long way to go and their initiative behind it is good, but they've just got so much stuff that they've got to connect the dots," Gruber added.

Commission Chairman Jeb Ball said the county needs to wait before committing funds.

"Let's hold off on that," Ball said. "I'm not willing to risk $300,000 for something that's never going to happen. I want these uncertainties figured out. I want the land acquired and see proof of that. I'd like to see a lot of different other proof that this is going to be a thing that we would be willing to commit to."

Commissioner Billy Jo Underwood said companies hiring workers, not government agencies, should pay at least some of the cost for housing those employees.

"OWA is actually starting on their own dormitory process for their workers and there's been a lot of different entities that need these workers stepping up and it not be completely on the government," Underwood said. "Because when you really look at when you need to provide workers, particularly in the farming world, all that kind of stuff, the employer needs to bear a lot of the responsibility versus it just being on a government entity to provide housing for particular industries."

"I do think that the Gateway Initiative and trying to solve this problem is great, but I think there needs to be more buy-in from the business community rather than the brunt being on the government," she added.

Gateway Initiative is one of the agencies working to develop the project. At a previous meeting in Gulf Shores in May, Ed Bushaw, vice president of workforce development at the Gateway Initiative, said coastal businesses need to bring in more workers and those employees will need housing and training. He said 8,000 to 10,000 more workers are needed to fill current job vacancies.

Stay in the know on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Sign up for our free email newsletter.

* indicates required