No Bill Gates, but George Barber and Don Logan

Don Logan

Where do communities get money?

Often from successful business people.

So what Birmingham needs is more successful businesses so there will be more successful business people.

Take Bernie Marcus who along with his partner, Arthur Blank, founded Home Depot.  Marcus donated $250 million dollars to build the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.  He and his wife, Billi, were listed among the top charitable donors in the country.

Birmingham has its benefactors also.

George Barber, founder of Barber’s Dairy, has invested an estimated $80 million of his own money, excluding the contents of the museum, to build Barber Motor Sports Park and Museum here in Birmingham.*  Barber Sports has had a major positive impact on local tourism and economic development…and given us a great deal of pride.

Don Logan, retired chairman of Time Warner and owner of the Birmingham Barons, bought Seek Publishing and moved it to Birmingham from Nashville.  He also bought the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, a fishing membership organization with more than a half a million members, and moved it here also.

When our local businesses do well, our community does well.

Successful business people give to charities and take major volunteer positions.

But our Birmingham region is lacking when it comes to holding onto large successful businesses.

A little over ten years ago we had thirty public companies headquartered here—now we have fifteen; we had six S&P 500 Companies—now we have one—Regions.  Losing successful companies costs us jobs and growth.

We have too many competing governments in our region who steal from each other rather than recruit from elsewhere.

Better government means more prosperous businesses which means more George Barbers and Don Logans.

*Please note Barber Museum and Park is a 501(c)3 non-profit. Mr. Barber’s “investment” is a charitable contribution and he will receive no return on his investment. I’ve heard that this donation was the largest charitable contribution in the history of our state.

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David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 Relationship 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).

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11 thoughts on “No Bill Gates, but George Barber and Don Logan”

  1. *Your question, “Where do communities get money” and your answer rightly included “often” in identifying business as “a” source.  Your presentation of the giving nature of businesses in the Birmingham Metro should be appluded for the added value to the Birmingham Metro.  Accepting that perception is one’s own reality, Birmingham Metro businesses, government and people must realize that the connectivity suffers from the perception of the historical Black/White discourse, the have and have nots, the rich and poor.  The 36 or 37 different municipalities in Jefferson County alone are separated along these lines and promote the types of governments within that work, or do not work together to invite those businesses that have left.  I would assume that a determinant factor for those businesses that have left is the every contentious social environment in the Birmingham Metro, and often reports of crime, low income and general lack of quality education being provided to a large part of the population.  Yes, community often get money from successful business people, but are these successful folks making the right investments?  Consider this.  If Mr. Barber had invested $79.5M in Barber Motorsport and $.5M in a socially focus project to develop trust between business and “people”, we may have an improved sense of trust in the Metro, eliminating some of the old historical divisions.  This could have been a good investment, as it would promote better government choices by more informed citizenry.  After all, the various governments are the people.  Businesses can come back (I consider myself the ultimate optimist), but will they return to the continued sepration based in perceptions that will continue to exist, and the realities of the departing businesses?  Invest in people for the purpose of change, and the people will change the government!

  2. I can assure you that Mr. Barber has contributed generously to socially-focused projects, as well as the Barber Museum & Park. He just doesn’t talk about them. Whether it’s the free lot in downtown Birmingham that he offered if a new company would move downtown (and which is now under contract), to helping startups such as Motus and Confederate Motorcycle, to generous contributions to non-profits, schools, museums, environmental groups, etc. In my opinion, Mr. Barber has done his share.

    David, thank you for the nice article.


  3. *Please accept that my post was not intended to “complain” of Mr. Barbers contributions.  I’m sure that he did more than was listed in David’s article.  I agree.  Nice article David.  My point is “being intentional”.  It’s nice for business people to provide something “nice” for the proverbial city left behind by White people, but to actually change the social fabric that evolved when you left, requires strategic investment.  We have years of experience in Birmingham since White flight.  Barbers Motorsports is in Leeds.  My point (or effort at a point) is change the people with investment and you will change the government of the people.  People like Mr. Barber (respectfully) could look a little deeper and find what has potential, require a return on their investment, and the investment must positively effect the social, economic and regional awareness as well as participation of those “locked in” those communities left behind.  I was born at Carraway in 1957, left Birmingham for the first time in 1962, returned to live in 1999.  Between that time, I experienced life in different countries (serving my country) and states (working in corporate America).  Coming home and returning to “my Black” community leaves me a quite concerned about “MY” community.  Making a significant “personal” investment in developing an understanding of MY community, I’ve come to realize that a lot of folks here are stuck.  Stuck in Birmingham, stuck in Hoover, stuck in Mountainbrook.  Being stuck fails to allow a true understanding of places you don’t dare to visit.  In MY community(s), many folks never visit more than 10 – 15 miles away.  Imagine how dependencies are formed and held on to!  When those with resources want to “invest” the easy road is sought.  The changes needed will require deep understanding.  There are future engineers, scientist, inventors and entrepreneurs STUCK.  How do we invest to get them exposed to their true potential?  Perhaps we will even find a few quality folks that could be elected to change the government.  NO INTENT OF OFFENSE INCLUDED!  JUST DIALOG!

  4. Ronnie, glad to hear fom you. The purpose of this blog is to create a conversation on how to make our Birmingham region better. Your comments are not only welcomed but appreciated. 

  5. Ronnie,

    The Barber Motorsports Park is located within the city limits of Birmingham, not Leeds. Mr. Barber specifically wanted it located within the city limits of Birmingham, where he lives.

    Best regards,

    Don Erwin

  6. Thanks Dan, and thanks to David for creating this blog.  I’m an “out of the box” community advocate and Pastor.  I believe the only way to overcome the history of separation, self-deportation from Birmingham (smile) and regional cohesion is to be intentional about David’s objectives in this blog.

    In our region, when it comes to analysis of our system(s) of separation, Black folk see racism, and White folk see responsibility for one’s condition (the thought for this entry).  Let’s consider promoting Black folk to think “prejudice” and White folk to think “prejudice and privilege”.  I choose to give White folk 2, because the dialog with Black folk must consider the well known under-educated segment of the Black community.  Not that we (Black folk) cannot walk & chew bubble gum!  The overarching objective is to achieve respect of each other and define (together) a mutually respectful challenge to create success.

    “If” this were pursued, I am of the belief that people like Mr. Barber, and other successful business folk that I have encountered could direct their investments to have a more positive effect on changing our goverment(s).  As was my original thought in regards to rather than a $80B investment in Barber Motorsport, invest $.5B (or much less) in an intentional effort to lift someone up from the affects of prejudices.  The portfolio of those successful folk will be dramatically increased because they would have impacted many individual lives.  Where and how I got my economic security will be remembered!

    A critical problem in promoting such a change is “prejudices” (pre-judgment).  Those same successful business folk (perhaps rightfully so) pre-judge that trying to reach poor, and poorly desitned people is a waste, overlook the “prejudices” of the poor that nobody cares.  If we begin with a healthy focus on respect, recognizing (not living in) the reality of lack of respect of each other, and a manageable process (with investment) for tangible outcomes, we may create another inclusive “box” to play in for awhile.  Lets learn what we don’t know, in opposition to dependence on what we think we know.

    Since I returned to Alabama, and the place of my birth (Birmingham) in 1999 from Silicon Valley, I’ve intentionally participated in numerous efforts to address “racism” and solving disparities in health, economic, social and spiritual wellness.  The one common conclusion that I’ve reached (to surely be challenged) is that communications of desired outcomes, does not respect the realities of affected communities engaged.  Often times when I attempt to bring these realities to the table of efforts to work together, the “clinical” approach from “outsiders” override my realities with their (outsiders) pre-defined (prejudices) surgical process to achieve what they believe is required.  Their “surgical” goals are achieved and overlook the opportunities to provide a more complete healing for the targeted.  If only we could have communicate better in our plans, the patient would have become healthier with the investments of outsiders. 

    One final consideration.  Government is a finite entity that grows icrementally.  Politics and politicing is the water that grows the seed of government to change its shape and maturity.  Life, on the other hand, is infinite.  Based in one’s own ability, willingness and desire to grow.  The long arduous task of creating regional cohesion in governance (or better yet politics) will require an intentional effort to change people.  We’ve got a long way to go in the Birmingham/Hoover MSA.

    Successful business folk play an important role is achieving David’s objective.  People must come together and take intentional steps towards desired outcomes.  Perhaps 4 or 5 (maybe more) election cycles.

    Offered by the “ultimate optimist”. 

    Back to my own prejudices so that “I” can become better!


  7. Please don’t take this the wrong way…although I am sure that some will…. I think I see some of the problem that we are all talking about here reflected in these comments….must everything become a black/white issue?? Must we always look at EVERYTHING through the lens of whether it’s motivated by racial prejudice? David was talking about how communities generate wealth and prosperity not about how black communities OR white communities generate wealth and prosperity…..just communities like ours. All boats rise or fall with the influx and outflow of water…ALL BOATS.

    Mr. Barber’s passion is motorcycles and race cars…he wanted to build something that reflected that passion…it was his money so he can do that. In the process he created a tourist attraction that brings money into the area and gives all of us…ALL OF US….something we can look at and be proud of. I don’t happen to share Mr. Barber’s passion for those things so I have not visited the facility and I may not ever…..but I am proud and glad that he built it. Can’t we just look at the things that people like George Barber and Don Logan do for Birmingham and say “Wow that’s really cool!” and leave it at that?

    One last comment on the “white flight” thing…..I live way out in the country north of Birmingham and barely in Jefferson county. We live here mostly because my wife inherited the property and it made sense at the time. Less than half a mile from my house sits one of the largest houses in the area. You could put my house inside it and have room to drive a car around. It has a pool and a full size tennis court in the back surrounded by a privacy fence.I have met the people who built it and I like them. They worked hard for years and saved their money, which they used to create their “dream home” .Their children and grandchildren go to school with my daughter, they ride the same bus. They also happen to be black. Their home being so close to mine drives the value of my property way up and that makes me happy. They are good honest hardworking people who are trying to provide a better quality of life for their children and that makes me happy to see that and gives me hope that I can do the same.
    It’s not always about black or white, sometimes it’s about doing what you want to do with what you worked hard to build and providing for your family the best way you can.

  8. *Thanks Gary.  Black (or more politically AA) is often communicated alongside poverty, impoverished, and poor.  White or more politically Caucasian) is often communicated alongside progressive, rights and responsibility.  Before the “economic crisis” begins, it is already Black and White.  Don’t really care how anybody takes it.  It is my reality.  Please respect that.

    Perhaps not “always…through the lens of whether it’s motivated by racial prejudice”, but for the economic prosperity of the Birmingham/Hoover MSA, it is a look that should be included in the planning process.  Take note!  I had a discussion as recently as yesterday, and have been hearing this questions from those that attended the Jobs Fair, held by Congresswoman Teri Sewell recently.  To a person (from Black people) the question is asked; “Where are the un-employed White folks?”  The unofficial survey by these attendees is that 95% of the 5K that showed up were Black with a sprinkling of Latina and White.  Unemployment is unemployment.  Job opportunity is job opportunity.  What kept the White unemployed away from the job opportunity?  One even asked; “Did ‘they’ know something that we did not know?

    Black and White is a part of the economic development long before a crisis in governance evolves, or in a decision of where to buy a home, college for our future, economic agendas, and political party affiliation.  We don’t want to openly admit that Black and White is a consideration in our decisions, but it is.  David’s efforts in this blog accentuate this consideration with reference to valuating a thriving Birmingham for the MSA’s economic future.  Birmingham (predominantly Black) and the MSA (predominantly White) has an economic impact.  Closing the gap of realities, rather than supporting political conclusion must take place for this valuation to be accurate.  Intentional challenge of the Black/White “consideration” on all sides to include Latina would benefit David’s objectives with this blog.

    Those who perhaps took your statements the wrong way, I would conclude, are not here for the purpose of talking together towards solutions.  My point of consideration targets more “intentional” investments that produce measurable change.  We need to measure our communications with each other (Black/White -predominant cultures inclusive of Latina).  A safe place must be created, and common politics must evolve.  More importantly respect and trust must be the centerpiece.

    The successful Black person, family, business or whatever, deserve applause.  The communities left behind deserves lifting up.  An anchor does not rise with the boat.  The differences between Black & White (and Latina) in the Birmingham MSA cannot lift some of these boats with the anchors fully attached.  From my vantage point, I’m working on the anchors!  I applaued those that have seized the opportunity and become more successful than most in our society, and pray they will invest in the economic development of those anchored, as well as MSA goals and objectives.

    Our prejudices motivate our actions.  Those (Black & White) that are rising should recognize that the anchor is holding others down.  The question is, is a strategic investment in removing anchors relevant to regional MSA economic development.  I respectfully submit that for a long time to come, the consideration of Black & White division will be a part of debates and discussion, even if only silently.


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