BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WPMI) Over the last couple of months, the county has closed on quite a purchase--three thousand acres of timberland south of I-65. The Baldwin County Commission has taken a big gamble, betting on the future.
Governors and other state and local officials broke ground on the final stretch of the Baldwin Beach Express, a zip line from I-10 to the Gulf of Mexico that should be complete in about 20 months. But that is only half the dream.
"We believe in the dream, we've designed the road from top to bottom, it's ready to go.. all the permitting is in place, we're just waiting for the right funding source to come to place," said Baldwin County Commission Chairman Tuck Dorsey.
They're hoping that funding will arrive in the form of the restore act. This would provide millions of dollars to build a highway north to I-65, making the Baldwin County Mega Site a whole lot more attractive to suitors. After stroking a big check, the county is on the hook for somewhere north of 30 million dollars. A stroke that has a lot of folks in this county scratching their heads, but the commissioners defend their purchase, and how they pulled it off.
"Interest rates are low right now and we've figured out a good mechanism by which to pay for it," said Dorsey.
A mechanism that will eventually pull millions from the oil and gas reserve trust fund, a fund that is just sitting there. The county commission is hoping the state legislature will free up those funds before this session ends, and in turn, the county would re-pay itself with interest.
Dorsey added, "Finding a smart way to pay for it shows we're putting a flag in the sand, we're open for business, we're committed to it, and we're looking for the right tenant."
Back in 2011 the county thought it had the purchase, but Chinese car manufacturer H-K Motors grabbed the land first.
“But now that we own it, I think we've had more people looking at it that anything else. And it took that ownership to say, hey… this is real," said Commissioner Charles "Skip" Gruber.
"We've had twice as many inquiries in the last two and half months of 2013 than we did in all of 2012."
All because Baldwin County took the leap, and spent millions to invest it it's future.
"We want to produce goods here. We want to be internationally viable in manufacturing in south Alabama."
The commission wouldn't go as far as saying some of the nibbles have been from aerospace suppliers ready to truck their stuff to Brookley and Airbus.
"I don't think it's a bad project, wasted money or anything like that. We have Airbus, and suppliers may be willing to look at something like this."
Bay Minette resident Delores Lee said, "You gotta spend money to make money, and we need it in this area. We need it."
Dan Hartley of Bay Minette added, "They gotta plan for the future, if you don't, you're stagnant, you're gonna die, or stay status quo."
Something the Baldwin County Commission can not be accused of. Estimating as many as five thousand jobs could be created on the mega site.
Dorsey says, "If someone is paying property tax, sales tax, tags on the car, each one of those is worth about 1500 dollars a year to the county.
"It’s not a money making thing. In the future it'll bring in taxes in the county, and that's what we survive off of," said Gruber.