Increased accessibility to childcare, especially after normal working hours. More affordable housing and mental healthcare facilities. Reliable broadband connectivity.
These are among the issues the Baldwin County Chamber Coalition has listed on its 2021 legislative agenda, a slate of concerns that county leaders believe need to be addressed to improve life for all residents.
This is the second year the county’s five Chambers of Commerce have worked together to poll members and set one list of priorities for the year. Organizers say the collaboration has helped to carry the county through the trials of 2020.
“I believe one thing that has made a tremendous difference is our respective communities and service areas seeing us working together - the ripple effect of witnessing competing entities collaborating for the common good of the whole community can only be a good thing, especially considering the trials and tribulations our area experienced with hurricane season combined with the effects of the pandemic,” said Sally Westendorf, Director of Community Betterment and Pro-Business Advocacy.
Westendorf said the annual effort also gives state legislators data and direct constituent feedback.
Typically local organizations vie for attention from the state to help fund projects and pass bills. Baldwin County’s Chamber Coalition has spent the last two years instead working together to collaborate on supporting and opposing legislation and issues that would improve the whole county, not just their portion of it.
“Our Coalition partnership is unique, something you will likely not see anywhere else. Competitors, in a manner of speaking working hand in hand for the greater good of businesses and our county,” said Gail Quezada, president and CEO of the Central Baldwin Chamber.
Members said it is difficult to pick a single issue that stands out because of the county’s diverse population but improving infrastructure sits squarely at the top of the agenda as a county-wide concern.
“It is very clear the positive snowball effect of improved transportation and infrastructure systems in any community, whether that is public transit, improved roadway efficiencies, access to broadband, etc., particularly for our workforce,” Westendorf said.
The organization has also thrown strong support behind HB 166 which would create a Baldwin County Mental Health Court within the criminal justice system.
“In a mental health crisis, people are more likely to find themselves in jail rather than getting the help they need. These individuals are usually repeating offenders, and this cycle creates a burden on law enforcement and budgets. A Mental Health Court would improve the quality of life for many individuals who need treatment instead of being caught in a continuous cycle and, worse, becoming violent offenders,” Quezada said.
Officials said they encourage business owners to become part of the chamber and part of the process in determining issues included in the annual legislative agenda.
“The feedback we receive directly from the members (via an annual survey) is what we include in the agenda. We encourage all our members and stakeholders to get involved as much as they can: read our emails and newsletters, check out our websites, and respond to our requests for feedback. Our work is always for them, and we can only truly tell that story if we hear directly from those we serve,” Westendorf said.