Organizations join forces for South Baldwin Workforce Training Campus

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 11/24/21

A recently formed local task force, spearheaded by the Gateway Initiative (a collaboration between the South Baldwin and Coastal Alabama Business Chambers) is lobbying towards its dream of bringing …

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Organizations join forces for South Baldwin Workforce Training Campus

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A recently formed local task force, spearheaded by the Gateway Initiative (a collaboration between the South Baldwin and Coastal Alabama Business Chambers) is lobbying towards its dream of bringing the South Baldwin Workforce Training Campus to life. If constructed, the campus would possess approximately 1,000 transient housing units to be occupied by Coastal Alabama Community College students, sports tourism, J1 visa holders, hospitality students, and seasonal workers. According to the task force, this would add roughly 2,000 peak-season employees to the local workforce.

The need

“We’re short on workforce. This is not a surprise to anyone, certainly not with visitors in our area, and we don’t have a ton of affordable housing. We don’t really have housing at all for seasonal people,” said Beth Gendler, President/CEO of Gulf Shores Orange Beach Tourism. “If we want to invite 2,000 people here to work during our peak seasons, we can’t do that because we have nowhere to put them.”

According to a report released by the Gateway Initiative, “the local workforce is at least 2,500 people short of meeting peak season employment needs, while many city and business leaders say the shortage is five times that amount.”

The report estimates a potential annual growth loss of $113.8 million in retail sales and $43.6 million in lodging sales. It further states customer service suffers due to staffing shortages, affecting the image of our area.

“We’ve lost a lot of revenue with businesses that weren’t able to open at all, or businesses that had to curtail their hours on the days they were open,” said Gendler.

The dream

While no definite location has been decided, recent discussions have the proposed campus located on the Foley Beach Express on approximately 150 acres. The estimated cost of the project is $210.5 million. Plans for the campus include housing, an education and training center with business and restaurant incubator, an extended hour childcare facility with 200 openings, and a transportation hub providing fixed routes in and out of Foley, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

The housing developments would be open all year long, though they are estimated to be utilized most during the peak summer season. The childcare center would remain open into the evening hours as well as offer weekend hours. The childcare center would also function as a training facility for future childcare workers.

The funding

The task force hopes to make the dream a reality by utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan. Were the project to be funded with no capital debt, it would be self-sustaining, Gendler said.

In an effort to bring the campus to life, the task force is lobbying government officials in an effort to secure funds for the project.

“We have discussed this with just about every governmental group - all the county legislatures, governor’s office, we’ve been up there at least twice with the chief of staff and the finance director, we’ve met with our county commissioners, we’ve met with people running for government for our legislative seats that will be opening up, and we’ve expressed the need for this campus to be developed,” Gendler said. “These are not new ideas, but this funding is new and it is one time. We feel very strongly about this, we feel like it could make a big dent in helping solve some of our problems going forward.”

To view the detailed plan, proposal, and report concerning the campus, visit the Gateway Initiative page at gatewayinitiative.com.