Baldwin County is growing fast and its economic outlook is good, but its mega site is entering its fifth year without a tenant.
In southwest Alabama, “Baldwin County is the only county to have positive job growth,” Lee Lawson, president of the Economic Development Alliance, told the County Commission last week. “We’ve had 4 percent job growth over the last nine years.”
Lawson said Baldwin was the fastest growing county in Alabama last year based on U.S. Census projections. Housing starts and building permits are up over pre-recession levels, he said, although housing prices have not quite caught up.
The alliance’s website, www.baldwineda.com, listed these major expansions and investments for 2016:
• UTC Aerospace Systems announced an 80,000-square-foot expansion in Foley, creating 260 new jobs.
• Morganton Pressure Vessels established a new manufacturing operation in Bay Minette with 70 new jobs.
• The Daphne Science and Innovation Complex, a white-collar office park, received a federal grant of $845,583 that is expected to generate another $5 million in private investment and create more than 100 jobs.
• Auburn University announced it will build a 24,000-square-foot educational complex in Gulf Shores.
• Thomas Hospital in Fairhope broke ground on the county’s first freestanding emergency department.
• The Poarch Band of Creek Indians began construction on its OWA amusement park and entertainment complex outside Foley.
“We saw good diversity in manufacturing, white collar, health care and aerospace last year. We had the No. 1 aerospace announcement in the state last year,” Lawson said.
Still, the search for a tenant for the mega site goes on.
The County Commission purchased some 3,000 acres in 2012 at a cost of $32 million. The site fronts Interstate 65 outside Bay Minette and is considered shovel-ready for a large-scale manufacturing plant.
“We had eight opportunities at the mega site last year,” Lawson said. “The average capital investment for those opportunities was $350 million.”
Lawson defined “opportunity” as occurring when a reputable company or site selector formally requests that the BCEDA propose the site for an economic development project. The interested party wants to know how the mega site could fit its needs.
There were several visitors to the site in 2016, most of them foreign investors, he said. Some of them made multiple visits.
But Lawson said he is bound by signed confidentiality agreements and other restrictions that prevent him from disclosing whether any of the parties are still interested or offering any timetable for when or if an announcement might be made.
He did, however, praise the commission for its leadership in backing the mega site.
“We wouldn’t be under consideration in the conversations that we’re in right now without the critical investments and the critical decisions you guys made as a commission,” Lawson said.