Baldwin County, in south Alabama, is known for tourism. Its sugar-white beaches, blue Gulf water, incredible shopping and entertainment, sports complexes and pretty downtowns dotted throughout the county bring in millions of tourism dollars for the local area, employ thousands and are responsible for a whopping 25 percent of the state’s sales tax per year. Condo sales are steadily on the rise after a huge drop due to the deflated housing market of recent years.
But because economic fortunes and woes are so tied to this industry — and the area has seen its share of woes from hurricanes and the BP oil spill in 2010 — the area not only has incredible resiliency to the point where beach tourism is back in a big way, but also continues to work on further diversifying its economy.
“The things that have happened helped bring to the forefront our need to diversify our economy, and we have been doing that for many years, ” says Lee Lawson, president of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance. “The underpinning is our quality of life and tourism will continue to be a bright shining star for our county.”
Baldwin has a healthy manufacturing base — in fact, its largest manufacturing employer, UTC Aerospace Systems (formerly Goodrich Aerospace and Aerostructures Group) makes products for the aerospace/aviation industry and employs more than 800.
The county recently purchased the 3, 009-acre South Alabama Megasite off of I-65 that is shovel ready, and other industrial parks are doing well — the Foley industrial park was recently named an AdvantageSite by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.
As for non-manufacturing, health care is a major sector, with its four hospitals responsible for at least 2, 500 jobs. The largest employer in the area by far is Baldwin County Schools, and a partnership recently was announced between the schools, colleges and local governments/agencies to build an aviation training center for high school students.
The recent Airbus announcement, with plans to bring 1, 000 full-time jobs to just-over-the-bay Mobile County, will help drive demand for well-trained people, Lawson says. Airbus, a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., announced recently it will build a $600 million aircraft assembly plant at the Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile. The plant will produce A319, A320 and A321 aircraft.
Construction is planned to begin in 2013, and will create about 2, 500 jobs over two years to build the plant. Aircraft assembly is scheduled to begin in 2015, with first deliveries from the Mobile plant in 2016. Airbus anticipates the plant will produce 40 to 50 aircraft per year by 2017.
“We expect to benefit from this in several ways because of our close proximity to Mobile and the port, ” Lawson says. “This will also spill over into demand for housing, retail and other sectors.”
In addition, the Sonny Callahan Airport in Fairhope has a 6, 600-foot runway with a full-length taxiway, augmented by a new automated weather station (AWOS). It can accommodate a full range of propeller and jet traffic in good weather or bad.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.
Lori Chandler Pruitt