Baldwin County, home to the Alabama Gulf Coast beaches, continues to grow in jobs, population and visitors
SOURCE: Business Alabama
Writer: Lori Chandler Pruitt
BALDWIN COUNTY, home to the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast beaches, is growing very quickly by just about any measure. In fact, it’s now the fourth-largest county in Alabama by population.
“Most every other economic engine here is driven by the fact that people either want to visit here or live here,” says Tanner Jones, data and communications manager of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.
The Daphne-Fairhope-Foley metro area is the seventh fastest growing in the U.S., Jones says. “Baldwin County is attracting more and more attention from business leaders and investors across the country and the world. That continued population growth and business investment is driving job growth as well, and in 2021, Baldwin County ranked third for job growth among all metros in the United States.”
As expected, Baldwin County’s largest economic driver is tourism, which has set records despite the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Baldwin and Mobile counties combined to generate 46% of the state’s total tourism expenditures ($6.1 billion) and almost 42% of the state’s total travel-related employment. Also in 2020, Baldwin County welcomed 5.9 million visitors who spent $4.8 billion in the county — again leading the state, according to the latest Alabama Tourism Department Economic Impact Study. With sports and events showing no sign of slowing down, every season generates significant economic impact.
Rounding out the major economic engines is aerospace and aviation — where Collins Aerospace is the largest manufacturing employer — distribution and manufacturing, health care, higher education and retail.
The county has a growing distribution sector, with newer projects that include grocer Aldi Inc. building a regional headquarters and distribution facility, and a new logistics hub for Imperial Dade, an independently owned and operated food packaging distributor.
Diverse manufacturing is an important sector, with aluminum and steel products, paper products, seafood processing, air compressors, medical instruments and more among the largest manufacturers.
Health care has grown rapidly. Several projects are finished or underway, including South Baldwin Regional Medical Center’s freestanding ER in Gulf Shores and its $170 million hospital expansion on its Foley main campus; Infirmary Health, which has opened a new medical office in Daphne; and USA Health, whose Mapp Family Campus in Fairhope is set to open in 2023 with primary, specialty and surgical services.
Higher education and K-12 schools, as well as chambers of commerce, business, industry and governmental entities are focused on workforce development and work together on projects, apprenticeships, internships and other opportunities for high school students and adult education. While schools already offer career prep options, a new comprehensive career technical high school is in development. It will be in central Baldwin County but enroll students from around the county for a mix of career training and core classes.
The shovel-ready South Alabama Mega Site in Bay Minette has more than a mile of I-65 frontage, and all utilities and environmental due diligence is completed. It’s a Certified Mega Site and an EDPA AdvantageSite. It is publicly owned by the Baldwin County Commission. It targets large, advanced manufacturing companies, Jones says. (Editor’s Note: In mid-May, Novelis announced a $2.5 billion aluminum plant at this site.)
Responding to growth, every city has projects in progress to expand city services, add amenities and attractions and provide housing. Many of the cities also have programs underway to ensure that growth plans also consider sustainability — with nature preserves and coastal preservation projects aiming to protect the area for generations to come.
Lori Chandler Pruitt is a Birmingham-based freelance writer for Business Alabama.