Over the past several months the Gateway Initiative has been collaborating with the Alabama Community College System and the Alabama Restaurant & Hospitality Association (ARHA) on a short-term training credential intended for entry-level hospitality workers.

“We are very excited about this credential because it is truly a business-driven model,” stated Tyler Brunson of the Gateway Team. “Employers from across the state were interviewed to provide input on the basic skills needed for successful entry-level hospitality employment — the end result being something quite special.”

The credential combines basic job preparedness skill development with competencies needed for entry-level success, including Gateway to Great Customer Service OSHA 10 for Hospitality, Cost Control and Human Resource Management.

“Our goal was to produce a credential that would give individuals a leg-up on being hired for quality jobs offered by quality companies,” said Dr. Josh Duplantis, Dean of Workforce Development at Coastal Alabama Community College. “We feel we did a good job listening to employers’ needs, and hiring people with this credential will aid in setting new employees on a strong path for career success.”

ARHA has received $1 Million from the American Rescue Plan to offer the training for this credential across the State of Alabama. The first 700 individuals trained in south Baldwin County will receive the training tuition-free; regular tuition is $495 per individual.

The Gateway Initiative team partnered with two local restaurants and the Foley Police Department to provide meals to over 700 healthcare workers at South Baldwin Regional Medical Center on Wednesday, September 8th. The Foley Police Department volunteered their time and a large portable grill for Chef Ryan Traudt of Wolf Bay Restaurant to prepare hamburgers and hotdogs at lunch. Chef Ira Gallon and co-owner Sylvia Smith of Local and Company Food + Drink provided the dinner shift. Many of these meals were also taken to several free-standing clinics in south Baldwin County, including the new Emergency Department in Gulf Shores.

"The response from our local restaurants and volunteers was overwhelming. Everyone wants to show their appreciation. When you are here and see all of the hard work and sacrifice in action, it takes you over emotionally to think of what the hospital staff has gone through," said Ed Bushaw of Gateway. Baldwin County healthcare workers said the last few months have been the toughest of any since the pandemic began. In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent a task force team to help at South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. Chief Nursing Officer Margaret Roley said, "In my 30-year career, I've never seen or been through anything like this. There is a balance between feeling the need to serve our community, taking care of our patients, and exhaustion."

On top of the exhaustion and long hours, hospitals are very short-staffed, along with so many other industries. Gateway Initiative's Tyler Brunson commented, "I've never seen such emotional or physical stress, and to be sprouted by a global pandemic that contributes to a long term workforce shortage has put our tourist destination in dire straits." The South Baldwin Regional Medical Center currently has staff during lunch to provide meals for the healthcare workers, but there is no staff working the dinner or night shift. If your business or restaurant is interested in providing a weekly dinner for our healthcare heroes, please contact Tyler Brunson (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Ed Bushaw (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Along with a local taskforce, Gateway is working with our municipalities and state elected officials to receive federal and state funding to build a tri-city workforce campus. This development would include housing, a fixed route transportation hub, extended-hour child care, and a state of the art training center with collegiate presence. We understand the need for this campus not only in South Baldwin, but all over the County as a whole. We are dedicated to making this work and need your input and support! Thanks for taking this quick survey.

While the permanent population of the tri-city area of Foley, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is approximately 40,000 people, the region contributes more than $90 million in retail sales and lodging tax revenue to the state of Alabama’s general fund each year. Current conditions are putting that revenue in danger and, if not addressed, could cause an economic downturn for the entire state.

 

The tri-city area is at least 2,000 people short of meeting peak season employment needs this year. While this has been a persistent problem for years, new challenges are also arising. The labor participation rate in the county has dropped an estimated 5,800 working-age people out of the workforce since pre-COVID, leaving employers short of candidates for full-time, year-round job openings. The combination of these factors has been devastating to the local tourism and hospitality industry, resulting in some restaurants not being able to reopen, some forced to operate at reduced capacity and many others not able to provide a positive experience to their guests. Reports from only two major restaurateurs show that the negative impact of their limited operations is more than $12 million. Similar issues are occurring in lodging and retail and even in the professional sectors.

 

The Facts

  • Tourism brings more than six million visitors to Baldwin County annually and the tri-city area of South Baldwin County (Foley, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores) collected $589 million in lodging sales and $983 million in retail sales in 2019.
  • These collections contribute more than $90 million annually in retail sales and lodging taxes to the state’s general fund.
  • In the last five years there has been a 41% increase in single family home prices, forcing the workforce to move further away from opportunity. The average home price in South Baldwin County was $385k in 2020.
  • The median household income in South Baldwin County is $58,320, making the recommended affordable cost for childcare average childcare $4,082 a year or $340 monthly. Current local rates are double that, at $675 per month.
  • Out of 21 childcare centers located in South Baldwin County, 67% are at full capacity and have waiting lists. 
  • Local survey of 250 respondents indicates that 77% of parents would use an after-hours and weekend child care program. 
  • Availability of full-time childcare would put an estimated 2,500 full-time employees back in the workforce.
  • Expanded public transit options would not only provide increased access for current and potential workers but also lessen the ever-increasing demand on the local transportation system that our economic success creates.

 

Cost of Inaction

  • Customer Service suffers, and affects the brand of our destination, putting not only these gains at risk, but the current economic impact at risk, as well. 
  • More than $90 million in tax revenues that flows annually from the tri-city tourism and hospitality economy, seeing an average growth of more than 6% in retail sales and 7% in lodging sales annually. Inaction puts not only the potential gains at risk but will result in a decrease in current revenues. 
  • Potential annual growth forfeited: 

    $113.8 million in retail sales; $4.6 million in state tax collections

    $43.6 million in lodging sales; $1.7 million in state tax collections
  • Businesses are not able or willing to expand in the current climate, which means our region’s economy will stagnate.
  • Weakened appeal for attracting new and expanding investments.
  • Social and Mental health implications.

 

Call to action! Our tri-city municipalities, business leaders, and community as a whole can advocate together to create change. Contact the Gateway Initiative for more information. 

With grant money from the Community Foundation of South Alabama, Gateway has partnered with the South Baldwin Literacy Council and TransferVR to receive 5 Virtual Reality Oculus headsets. Gateway and the Literacy Council proposed a “Career Exploration” program to TransferVR, to help students and adults alike to discover, tour, and train in different professions such as Automotive, construction, Hospitality, HVAC and many more. This training is assessed in the headset and each individual is scored. 

The training modules and professions are continuously being developed and added to. TransferVR is now promoting this program to their clients all over the world to extend their reach and help people discover endless possibilities!

The South Baldwin Literacy Council offers FREE educational programs and classes, including GED testing, English, Spanish and French Language classes, and youth tutoring programs to name a few. Please contact Mitchell Lee, Executive Director, for more information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (251) 943-7323.