Our South Baldwin area could be a business school’s case study in resilience. Weather events like Frederick in 1979, Ivan in 2004, and Katrina in 2005. The recession in 2008 and 2009. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.
I was with the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance through all of them except Frederick. My job with the Alliance was working with our business community and municipalities on issues that were too big for one chamber or one city to solve on its own, especially growth-related issues like workforce development.
A little history:
In 1979, Hurricane Fredric devastated the island and paved the way for new development. Throughout the 1980’s, Alabama’s 32 miles of coastline saw its first condos and civic buildings appear, golfing and retirement communities appeared, and our cities saw lodging revenue increase year after year.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan destroyed much of the island. The strength of the community showed as residents pulled together to clean-up the devastation and began to rebuild. In Gulf Shores, there was standing room only as the community came together to share their thoughts for an even better future in a plan titled “Envision Gulf Shores.” Soon, business came back, tourism rebounded, and locally owned businesses were back on their feet.
When the national recession began in 2008 we saw a decrease in lodging revenues, but we rebounded in 2009: Baldwin County earned the top spot in lodging revenue production among the six counties of the Alabama and Northwest Florida beach destinations. At the time, Herb Malone, President of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, said: “We can all be proud that our industry finished strong in 2009. Through the continued efforts of so many, our organization, our industry and our communities have weathered tough times and are positioned to make 2010 another successful year.” This statement reflected the optimistic attitude of nearly every restaurant owner, vacation rental management owner, retail owner, and charter boat captain on the island.
2010 brought the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. By that time, our chambers and our cities had learned the value of working together. Working out of a “War Room” in a former storage area at Meyer and a “Business Support Center” at Coastal Alabama (then Faulkner) Community College, we focused on survival in the short term, then recovery and coming out stronger and more resilient than before. We formed the Coastal Resiliency Coalition with our business and community leaders who met many times a week during this crisis to coordinate our response with federal and state officials and with BP. We were successful: Our local economy rebounded again and has continued to grow each year since.
Which brings us to today and COVID-19.
The CRC has continued to meet regularly over the last 10 years to watch for opportunities for our cities and our chambers to work together. Its members include our three mayors and city administrators, our two chamber executives, GS/OB Tourism, Coastal Alabama Community College, and several business/community leaders.
The Gateway Initiative is our two chambers combining forces to address common business issues. The investment in the Gateway Initiative had allowed them to hire the full-time experienced staff who are focused on our current most critical issue: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much like the CRC and the Business Support Center did in the Oil Spill crisis, the CRC and the Gateway Initiative are working jointly on this crisis every day.
We know how to work together so that we come out of a crisis stronger than before. I can think of no reason why this won’t be the case in today’s COVID-19 pandemic.