South Baldwin Chamber seeks to partner with Foley for Gateway Initiative

By Jessica Vaughn / jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 8/13/18

FOLEY – The South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce announced their 5-year capital campaign, the Gateway Initiative, early 2018. Since, it has been hard at work to implement the ideas and plans that were …

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South Baldwin Chamber seeks to partner with Foley for Gateway Initiative

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FOLEY – The South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce announced their 5-year capital campaign, the Gateway Initiative, early 2018. Since, it has been hard at work to implement the ideas and plans that were created for the initiative. Officials gave an update during the Aug. 6 Foley council, asking for a partnership with the City of Foley to support the Gateway Initiative.

“We’re here today to talk to the city about a potential partnership as you get into next year’s budget,” said Tommy Lee, Gateway Initiative Chair. “We’d like a five-year partnership agreement so that we can further what we’ve worked on. To date, we have over 50 businesses in our local service area who have all invested in this program, ranging from all walks of life.”

Creating the Gateway Initiative began with interviewing over 60 local businesses, drawing information from each on what is important to the community and what is needed in our area to assist growth.

“We know we’re growing, but the question is how are we going to deal with it,” said Lee.

Based on the answers, three initiatives were designed: Business-Driven Talent Development and Recruitment, answering the problem of how to get more people in this area into the workforce; Community Betterment and Pro-Business Advocacy, focusing on how to better the businesses already in the area and to speak as one voice to help them accomplish what they need to accomplish; and Existing Business Growth and Retention, which will help existing businesses grow. Each area has unique mission statements and objectives. All outcomes are metric driven, allowing the Chamber to record progress and report it to investors and locals.

To achieve these goals, the South Baldwin Chamber is requesting a monetary partnership with Foley to help fund projects and to further the Gateway Initiatives’ outreach.

“We’ve got a lot to accomplish and it takes money to do it,” said South Baldwin Chamber President and CEO Donna Watts. “We have raised a good bit of money, but if you look and see what our goal is, it’s $250,000 a year … I’m going to ask you for $50,000, because we will use every dime of it and put it right back into this community to develop these programs that will help our youth find careers, not just jobs. We’ll raise the level for everyone, because when business does well, business gives back to their employees, and that raises the tide for all of us.”

While the city council didn’t take a vote, they agreed to discuss the matter further amongst themselves as well as with chamber officials.

If successful, the Gateway Initiative will help to raise the standard for businesses in our area, as well as fill them with the employees needed to handle the growth, important issues to Wolf Bay Restaurants & Catering owner Charlene Haber, who is a co-chair of the Existing Business Growth and Retention Initiative.

“I find I work my staff such long hours because I can’t get the new workforce in to give them any relief,” said Haber. “I worry what that’s going to make my restaurants and other restaurants, because if you can’t staff the existing restaurants that are here, how are we going to staff all the new restaurants and new businesses that are coming to this area?”

Haber states the Gateway Initiative will not only educate the service industry but will help train both new and existing employees in customer service. One of the future plans from the Chamber is to hire people who live and breathe the service industry, and who will focus daily on bringing in new employees and preparing them for the workforce, something Haber believes is desperately needed.

The Gateway Initiative Board is dedicated to discovering ways to be impactful and to poise themselves to be prepared for the growth that’s happening in this area, to meet business needs, and to overcome the challenges brought on by growth, according to SH Enterprises Michelle Hodges, co-chair of Business-Driven Talent Development and Recruitment.

One of the very first tasks for Hodges’ initiative was to hire a director who would focus on bringing new people into the workforce and preparing them for work.

“We have to think through how we can utilize existing workforce, apprenticeship programs, college interns, work release programs, and retirees,” said Hodges. “There’s some immediate opportunity that can help to offload some of the strain our businesses are feeling in workforce development, but there’s a long-term initiative to make sure that our educational partners, our businesses, our community, is all on the same page on where we are taking our students into their future.”

Ed Bushaw has been hired as the Director of the initiative, and is already at work planning future steps. He stated that while talking about objectives that have already been identified, more came to the table, and he would like to handle them all.

“We have to work outside of the box to bring people into the workforce,” said Bushaw. He stated that two of his most important jobs were to assist in staffing businesses in our area as well as assuring the workers are trained.

For more information on the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and the Gateway Initiative, check their website at www.SouthBaldwinChamber.com.