Up until a few years ago, our Chamber of Commerce (currently BBA), organized a trip of community leaders and politicians to visit other cities. They were called the “BIG Trips,” and the purpose was to learn what works in other communities.
The Chamber over a seven year period visited St. Louis (2002), Baltimore (2003), Charlotte (2004), Nashville (2005), Pittsburgh (2006), Denver (2007, and Austin (2008).
We found these trips to be fascinating. We heard about successes and we heard about failures, but it opened our eyes to the possibilities.
However, one of these trips was humiliating.
We felt Nashville would be the perfect city visit. It’s located nearby, we’ve watched Nashville grow, and many of us had visited on numerous occasions. So it would be good to hear directly from their politicians and business leaders.
But it became clear that many of the Nashville speakers looked down on Birmingham.
In a session to learn about the success of healthcare in Nashville, one of the panelists asked how Birmingham’s healthcare industry could survive after the HealthSouth debacle. Fortunately, Dr. Carol Garrison, the President of UAB was in attendance and had the opportunity to respond.
Then in our luncheon session, a speaker who was describing Nashville’s successes in Civil Rights, called us “Bombingham,” as if we were still the cradle of mean spirited segregation.
And then in a third session, an African American State official told us about an incident where he stopped for gas while visiting Birmingham and another customer made a racial remark. He insinuated that Birmingham was a bunch of racists. (He later apologized in writing)
These three speakers certainly don’t represent the many fine people who live in Nashville, but it did hurt our feelings.
Nashville has had some great accomplishments. And in my opinion, many of these successes were made possible because Nashville and Davidson County have a unified government.
It’s experiences like this that has made me and others determined to turn Birmingham around.
We can do better than this.
David Sher’s goal is to create a conversation on how to fix our fragmented and dysfunctional local government.
David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 Content Marketing and co-CEO of AmSher Receivables Management. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (ONB), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).