March was a true test of Baldwin County’s community to show our resiliency and ingenuity. We have championed for others, though possibly in distress ourselves, created new ways of “doing business,” and even found new revenue generators that may continue well after the smoke has cleared. We are Baldwin Strong! 

The dilemma of low unemployment and the abundance of job openings for quality staff has been an increasing challenge for employers in this region for years. Conversely, uncertainty with the current situation regarding closings and unemployed workers takes the place of the need to hire. Not surprising to those who know them, employers have stepped up for their employees during this time of crisis. There has been a clear delineation from ‘businesses as usual’ and given rise to the true grit of the owners, the people behind the name.

Baldwin County’s Hospitality & Tourism Industry brings more than $4.4 billion to the state of Alabama. That is 24% of the total dollars brought to our state for tourism, and it increases every year. Though this is a multi-billion-dollar industry, the majority of businesses in Baldwin County that support these dollars are independently owned. That being said, when these businesses were presented with the COVID-19 virus threat and had to consider closing their doors, these people fought for their employees as much as for their businesses.  Some chose to close before the directive to do so, in hopes of protecting their staff and customers, while continuing to pay their employees. Others remained open in limited capacity with limited staff, while diligently seeking and even creating ways to support them. For most in this area, employees are more than employees; they’re family.

Prior to the news of any threat for health and well-being, the Gateway Initiative team was working to help this industry and its business owners improve its workforce along with its image in the minds of many. We do this through business assessment and education, visiting with business representatives and schools to address the needs of the business, the perceptions at ground level, and by clearing paths from school to career through academia and experience. The responses from students and parents alike have been very positive. There is a definitive need for alternatives to the four-year college pathway – the “only-one-way-to-achieve-success” mentality – evident from the response and turnouts for parent assemblies. This also assists businesses in building a stronger workforce, one that is dedicated to the business, who is investing the individual’s long-term success. To our area businesses, the added value of the tax incentive is helpful, but not a motivator.

Although our means have shifted in the midst of this threat, our focus and resolve remain the same, to assist our community and businesses where it is needed most. As we look forward, we will continue to focus on sustainability, support and eventually recovery. There is much to be done on all counts and need the creative minds and strong shoulders of all. Again, we are Baldwin Strong!