It is hard to imagine a part of the country with more growth potential than Bay Minette and North Baldwin County. As recounted in his book Faith and Good Works, “Mr. Jimmy” Faulkner tells how the North Baldwin industrial development team recruited business after business in the last half of the last century, many of whom are still major industrial employers of the area—for example, International Paper, Quincy Compressor, Dental EZ, Baldwin Pole and Piling and the Gulf Packaging Company. The industrial growth for this century is being led by today’s team of the Chamber, city and county leaders, the utilities and the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance (BECDA).
The Alliance was formed in 1994 to take on industrial recruiting on behalf of the five chambers of commerce in the county. Its mission quickly broadened to include other things that were too broad for a single city or chamber to take on like workforce development, a virtual business incubator, community development and large regional projects involving several counties (or states). In 2009, this organization was recognized as one of the top 10 economic development organizations in the country with $1.8 billion in capital investment and 3,486 new jobs created. This was the third time in the last five years to be included in the top 20. This year BECDA came in ahead of Atlanta, New York City, Phoenix, Memphis and more than 15,000 other areas.
There are several factors impacting industrial growth in North Baldwin county: The Port of Mobile is increasing the capacity of its container facility from 80,000 to 800,000 TEU’s (20-foot equivalent shipping containers) per year. ThyssenKrupp is opening a new steel plant in North Mobile County. And, most significantly, in 2009 Hybrid Kinetic Motors (HK) announced its plans to build an automobile assembly plant on a new 3,000-acre mega-site located between Bay Minette and I-65.
The proposed HK facility is planned to have an eventual capacity to build 1,000,000 cars per year, which are destined for both U.S. and international markets. With 5,000 direct employees and 20,000 to 30,000 employees in nearby suppliers, this is one of the most significant industrial projects in the world.
Industrial growth cannot happen without a strong workforce. Because our labor shed spans several counties, a “Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council” was set up with 40 of our major employers and all of our community colleges and K-12 school districts across eight counties. The purpose of the group is to assist employers in actively forecasting workforce demands, i.e., how many people and what kinds of skills, to meet future needs, so the state’s education system can produce and supply the right mix of workers at the needed time. For example, Faulkner State Community College has been engaged in actively developing programs that are tied directly to area business and industry needs. Over the past two years, Faulkner State has started a Technical Dual Enrollment Program in partnership with the Baldwin County Public School System. This partnership is allowing the college to utilize the two Career Technical Centers for the purpose of providing high school students with college credit in their area of focus during the day, and then using the facilities to offer adult education in the evenings. Areas included are Welding, HVAC, Construction Sciences, Automotive and Drafting.