South Baldwin Chamber and Coastal Alabama Business Chamber form Gateway Collaborative Alliance

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 8/28/19

After months of deliberation, the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce (SBCC) and Coastal Alabama Business Chamber (CABC) have announced a partnership between the two entities to expand South Baldwin …

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South Baldwin Chamber and Coastal Alabama Business Chamber form Gateway Collaborative Alliance


After months of deliberation, the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce (SBCC) and Coastal Alabama Business Chamber (CABC) have announced a partnership between the two entities to expand South Baldwin Chamber’s Gateway Initiative into a regional capital campaign that will benefit businesses throughout the southern end of Baldwin.

“The Gateway Initiative has been making an impact in our business community for nearly two years through a number of programs and partnerships,” states the Gateway Media team. “To build on this success, South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and Coastal Alabama Business Chamber have formed a collaborative alliance to increase bandwidth in order to make a larger impact on a regional business acceleration program.”

Originally, both chambers had separate capital plans: the Gateway Initiative for SBCC which kicked off in 2017 and Advantage Coastal Alabama for CABC which began in 2015.

“During Advantage Coastal Alabama, the Coastal Chamber suffered the untimely death of their president Ed Rodriguez and ACA was not able to be as successful as projected,” said President of SBCC Donna Watts. After the loss of Rodriguez, the CABC put the capital project on hold until the time when a firm plan was in place. Invoices weren’t sent and the account waited while the best plan of action was adopted.

In 2018 Greg Alexander became the president of CABC and began discussions with Watts on the accomplishments of the Gateway Initiative. It was noted how similar the two plans were. The five areas of concern for ACA were: support and advocate for existing businesses and industry; develop a highly qualified workforce; recruit and support new businesses and industry; improve infrastructure and transportation; and implement responsible and sustainable environmental programs. The Gateway Initiative’s three areas of focus are: Business-Driven Talent Development and Recruitment; Community Betterment and Pro-Business Advocacy; and Existing Business Growth and Retention.

“We began asking why are we doing this separately when we could do it together, it just makes so much sense,” Watts said. “We want to help the tri-city area and the South Baldwin region, we want to help all the businesses we can, so why should we put a burden on the businesses to invest in two different plans that may be doing very similar things when we could combine our efforts and resources and do more.”

Along with Watts and Alexander, Vulcan CEO Tommy Lee, Director of Security/Operation at The Wharf Jim Bibby, SBCC 2019 Chairman Michelle Hodges with SH Enterprises, CABC 2019 Chairman Dec McClelland with Edward Jones Investments, Owner of Wolf Bay Restaurants & Catering Charlene Haber, Grant Wealth Management Founding Partner Matt Grant, Director of Human Resources and Public Relations at Perdido Beach Resort Penny Groux, and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism Herb Malone formed a group of directors for the partnership and began working with Funding Solutions, the original company behind the Gateway Initiative’s conception, to rework the project with the combined forces.

“We broke into four different task groups to accomplish that goal,” said Mike Dryden with Funding Solutions. “One created a memorandum of understanding, which both chamber boards approved, on how they wanted to work together, what the agreement was, and how the collaboration would work. The second group discussed what the workforce program was going to look like, while the third was program startup and ongoing communications. The fourth considered outcomes and what we were going to achieve with the partnership.”

Since beginning in 2017, the Gateway Initiative has been very successful. The campaign began with interviewing 60 different businesses, both in the area and neighboring counties, chamber members and non-members, to get an idea of what was needed in our community. The three initiatives were then created, and two new hires were made: Ed Bushaw as director of Talent Development and Recruitment and Sally Westendorf as director of Community Betterment and Pro-Business Advocacy. Travis Valentine was realigned to Vice President of Investor Relations and Business Growth & Retention.

In only two years, the Gateway team has met with multiple businesses in the area to discuss their needs and assist in creating solutions; created Training Academies to help ensure the workforce is properly trained and ready to work, with over 350 professionals trained since 2017; hosted Gateway to Great Customer Service Training; brought youth and adult apprenticeships to the area in professions and industries relevant to South Baldwin; hosted an extremely successful Signing Day as part of the youth apprenticeship program; and much more. Investors were kept updated along every step of the way on how their money was being spent and the accomplishments of the Gateway team and where they were going next. Gateway has 58 investors investing a total of $1,453,000 over the five-year campaign. With the combined forces of the chambers, it brings the total number of investors to 110.

“Together we can expand the Gateway Initiative into a regional catalyst for economic and business growth and sustainability, a comprehensive program with goals, measurable outcomes, and tangible results,” said Alexander. “A program that will set the president for the state of Alabama, the southeast, and, I say, the entire country. A program that will enhance the tri-city area and region and accelerate our economic vitality for decades to come.”

Both chambers stated that there would not be any merger of organizations going along with the partnership, and both chambers want to continue with their separate programs and events. The partnership will only be in the form of a capital campaign to benefit both chamber’s areas.

“We have the opportunity to be a guiding part of the Collaborative Gateway Initiative for our entire region, to propel an already prosperous business climate even higher for years to come,” Alexander said. “We all know the workforce issues, and if we address them now then it will make us that much stronger.”

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