Empowering workforce development: Foley’s new residential campus aids tourism industry

Lifestyle Editor
Posted 8/17/23

The need for affordable housing for seasonal and non-seasonal workers is something Baldwin County struggles with, but ground was broken today on one piece of a solution. The Poarch Band of Creek …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Empowering workforce development: Foley’s new residential campus aids tourism industry


The need for affordable housing for seasonal and non-seasonal workers is something Baldwin County struggles with, but ground was broken today on one piece of a solution.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Holtz Companies and the city of Foley broke ground Tuesday, Aug. 15, on an $18 million seasonal workforce campus in Foley.

The residential campus project is made possible through a private/public partnership between the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Holtz Companies, who will each contribute $9 million, and the city of Foley who donated the land.

Work is already underway on phase one of the project with a target completion date of spring 2024. The initial phase includes two 37,500-square-foot dorm-style buildings. Each building will include 80 units with a total of 300 beds, making a total of 600 beds available campus-wide. Each building will include a large communal kitchen, laundry facility and gathering spaces. Each unit will house four people and have a private bathroom, storage, microwave and refrigerator.

The rent will be $150 a week per person.

The housing will be available to international students participating in the U.S. Summer Work Travel program (J-1 Visa), H2B Visa program and others.

The project is being developed and constructed by Holtz Companies. Once built, it will be managed by a sister company, International Residence Hall Inc.

President Dan Bullock said the company brings 10 years of experience to the project. They have constructed and managed similar residential campuses in areas like the Wisconsin Dells and Dollywood.

"When the Foley campus is fully developed, it will include up to eight buildings in four separate phases, housing approximately 2,400 with a planned administrative building and community center," Bullock said.

Poarch Band of Creek Indians Chairperson and CEO Stephanie Bryan stressed how needed this type of development is throughout the state.

"There is not much low-income housing to fill the workforce development that we need," Bryan said. "We have all navigated through the turbulent times of COVID-19, and we are all having issues with workforce development. Housing is a key component and a necessity that people need in order to bring the hospitality to have that great experience. I think with this J-1 project that is exactly what we will do. By having quality living space for these employees to live, reside and be happy when they show up to work in the tourism industry."

The Creek Indians own and operate OWA Parks & Resort nearby the new housing development in Foley and at times have had issues with fully staffing its amusement park and new indoor/outdoor water park.

Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich said this is a major asset to Foley but also to the rest of south Baldwin.

"It is not just restricted to the city businesses of Foley," Hellmich said. "It is for any businesses in south Baldwin. I invite them all to come talk to them and reserve space for their workers in this facility. It is going to be a class A facility that is going to give a great experience for these J-1 workers."

When asked about the need for such facilities, Hellmich said south Baldwin County is about 6,000 workers short, and while there are other projects in the works, this is a vital component.

"Having 600 to 2,000 workers here will be a big deal for all of our businesses," Hellmich said. "It is not just OWA; they need workers, too, but they were gracious enough to finance this, and it is a community service."

The campus is on Konair Way in Foley near OWA, Tanger Outlets and the downtown Foley businesses but also the Foley Beach Express. Hellmich said the city of Foley has projects scheduled for the area that include lighting, sidewalks and pickleball courts across the street from the complex.

"The J-1 is not just about work; it is about the cultural exchange and how it works with the workers as they live here in the United States," Hellmich said.

Another city that will benefit from the complex is Orange Beach. Councilman Jerry Johnson attended the groundbreaking event and said the initiative is going to make a positive impact on Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Foley.

"In Orange Beach, J-1 workers are critical for our big restaurants. They depend on them year-round, and so to have them where they can find affordable housing and be a short distance away will make a tremendous impact on Orange Beach during the summer and all year-round," Johnson said. "We are appreciative of all the partners and appreciative of the city of Foley for taking the lead."

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians employs 6,000 people throughout the state of Alabama, mostly in the hospitality industry. Bryan said she looks forward to seeing more partnerships like this throughout the state.

"When we all collectively work together as leaders and investors, we are investing in building stronger, safer communities together to have that workforce development," Bryan said. "Alabama is a great state for economic development, but lack of housing has become a major issue and lack of workforce development. We need to retain that talent and keep those people in the state of Alabama."