Note: This article has been edited from the print edition.
FOLEY - The Gateway Initiative kicked off at the start of 2018, the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce’s 5-year capital project to increase, maintain, and train the workforce in the South Baldwin area. Coming to the end of the second year, the Gateway team gave an update on all of their accomplishments through the year, as well as a look ahead to the future.
Some of the biggest news for Gateway this past summer was combining the South Baldwin Chamber’s and the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber’s capital projects under the Gateway umbrella. The thought was both chambers were heading towards a similar goal to strengthen the workforce throughout the tri-city area. The partnership has met with success, and a new member of the Gateway team has been hired thanks to the collaboration.
During 2019, the Gateway team tackled issues concerning workforce development, bringing a major win for the region with a new apprenticeship program.
“Seeing unemployment at right around 2% right now, workforce development is still a major point in our queue,” said Director of Talent Development and Recruitment Ed Bushaw. “One of the areas we found a lot of traction in is the apprenticeship model that we’ve put into place. The Gateway Initiative is actually a Department of Labor sponsor for apprenticeship right now, which means that we can create apprenticeships.”
The Gateway team is working with various different businesses in our region, including Vulcan, Wolf Bay Lodge, Home Boss Inspection, and soon Frances Holk-Jones with State Farm, which will be the site of the first insurance agency apprenticeship in the United States. The team is working with A&R Hospitality, which has 21 hotels locally, on a lodging manager apprenticeship.
Gateway is very active in local schools, hosting Apprenticeship Signing Days as well as bringing local business leaders into classrooms to speak with students about jobs, careers, and trades needed in our area. Bushaw states the principals in the feeder pattern have been extremely helpful, as have the school counselors who understand not every student is on the path to a four-year university. Within Foley High School, the Gateway team is planning a community garden that has been designed by WAS Design and will be tended by the school’s Ag program. The community will be able to assist the students in growing the food in the garden, benefitting the entire community.
Recently the team met with Columbia Southern University to discuss the development of training programs that will benefit businesses and students in the area. The team is also working with developers to help solve one of the largest issues in our area, bringing in the workforce. A possible solution may be to partner with developers to build workforce housing for people who come for seasonal work, as well as creating a 24-hour daycare program to assist nightshift employees.
“One of the things that’s very exciting is the YES! Program,” Bushaw said. “It was put in place a few years ago when the City of Mobile started working with Baldwin County on bringing three to four hundred people a day out of Mobile to Spanish Fort and then busing them to Foley and to the beach to work in the summertime … I think the last number we heard was we’re 1,800 people shy every summer of providing excellent customer service. Well, that was about five years ago, I’d say it’s maybe 4,000 people shy. So 12% unemployment rate in Downtown Mobile, we can help them by bringing them here where our employment is at 2%.”
The team has updated their Accountability Plan for 2019-2020 to give more specific details on what is looking to be accomplished next year. Information on what has been done already and what will be done in the future can be found at www.southbaldwinchamber.com/gateway.