Uprising of young professionals propel Birmingham

Andrew Patterson
Andrew Patterson

ComebackTown published by David Sher & Phyllis Neill to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Andrew Patterson. (We love when young professionals are guest bloggers)

I am a big Birmingham fan and have lived here for the better part of 12 years.  Birmingham truly is a great city and I couldn’t see myself living anywhere else.

However, growing up in Nashville and seeing its growth over the last 30 years, I can’t help but wonder why Birmingham can’t keep up with Nashville or other Southeastern cities.  Needless to say,Nashville has passed Birmingham like we were standing still, to the point where I no longer see Nashville as a competitor.  In fact, Nashville was named America’s New Boomtown in this article: http://aol.it/11mYAnc.  Below, you will see MSA population comparisons over the last 30 years.

Populations in 1980

Birmingham   938,238

Nashville        850,505

Populations in 1990

Birmingham   956,668

Nashville        985,026

Populations in 2000

Birmingham  1,052,238

Nashville        1,311,789

Populations in 2010

Birmingham  1,128,047

Nashville        1,589,934

Estimated Populations in 2012

Birmingham  1,136,650

Nashville        1,726,693

Birmingham Growth:            21%    (.65% per year)

Nashville Growth:                 103%  (3.2% per year)

Nashville has grown at 5 times the rate that Birmingham has during this time; however, this example is not limited to only Nashville as the same can be said for Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, and other Southern cities.

While growth is certainly not everything, and in fact can sometimes be detrimental if not handled appropriately, it is certainly an indication of the health of the local economy and job creation. No one will deny the importance of jobs in our economy as jobs fuel population growth, which in turn, fuels more jobs to meet the needs of the increased population and in-turn fuels even more growth.  In fact, it has been estimated that every 100 jobs adds nearly $5,000,000 to the local economy and adds over 26 indirect/induced jobs.  This generally leads to better services for residents, increased tax base, more construction/re-investment, higher real estate values, and by-in-large a better city.

Birmingham and Nashville have a lot in common – southern hospitality, great food, similar climates, centrally located, healthcare and financial based economy – but why is Birmingham lagging behind Nashville, when it comes to growth?

There are two main differences between Birmingham and Nashville:

1. The biggest difference between Nashville and Birmingham is the lack of a unified vision.  The lack of vision comes primarily from our disjointed government structure.  Nashville has a municipal government – a consolidated county and city government.  Birmingham’s Jefferson County is disjointed with 37 different city governments and a county commission.  How can you build consensus when you have 37 different mayors, 37 different city councils, and a county commission with 5 commissioners, and no unified voice or vision?  From my time in Nashville, it seemed as everyone in Nashville, the surrounding area, and the state works toward a common goal of moving the city and area forward as they realize that so goes Nashville…  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Birmingham.

2. Nashville has a can-do attitude.  In Birmingham, each new project is seemingly met with opposition.  Just read the comment section of practically anything related to Birmingham and you will be astounded by the negativity that is in our community.  This attitude is keeping us stuck in the past.  We, the citizens of Birmingham and the surrounding metropolitan area are hindering our own growth and potential.  Luckily, there is an uprising of young adults and committed professionals who want to see our great city move forward, and who are investing time, energy and money and their livelihoods into our downtown core and helping to reinvigorate our city.

There is a lot of positive momentum in our city, particularly the city core, but in order to obtain the sustained growth that we need and want, we must form a county-city municipal government, and we must start believing in ourselves.

So, can Birmingham be the next Nashville?  Absolutely!  With a consolidated government structure and a can-do attitude, we have all the promise in the world.  Without it, we will lag behind other cities and continue to be frustrated with Birmingham…the city of forever promise.

Andrew Patterson is a Principal at Shannon Waltchack, a Birmingham-based Commercial Real Estate Firm.  His firm has been actively involved in revitalizing Birmingham through historic renovations in the CBD and commercial developments throughout the city.  www.shanwalt.com.  

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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4 thoughts on “Uprising of young professionals propel Birmingham”

  1. This is it! We have been hearing and talking about the dysfunction of local government for a long time. It came up in the Strategic Master planning sessions years ago, Jeffery Bayer wrote a great piece recntly and debated in many many other private and open forums. How can we put some legs under this idea??? I believe there could be a tipping point if we can get at this issue now. Hugh Hunter

  2. Absent Bull Connor and the fire hoses, every major city in the South had the same civil rights history as had Birmingham. None of them spent an entire year wallowing in a horrible incident which happened in 1963! Did anyone else but me get sick and tired of being beaten up by the endless articles, festivals, dedications and Kumbaya moments of the last year? If we don’t get past the past, we’re never going to succeed. Honor the history but then put it away and move forward, like every other city in the surrounding 6 states!

    Case in point…..several years ago, I learned that a major museum in North Carolina had become disenchanted with the state tourism department and was looking for a new home. The museum had over a quarter million visitors each year, in a remote mountain town. I made two trips up to NC to speak with the owner, pleading Birmingham’s case as the ideal new location for the museum. He insisted that someone from the City contact him about the potential move. The ‘Economic Development Officer’, Andy Mayo, at the City couldn’t contain his disinterest in the potentially huge economic impact of the museum (have you been to the Barber Motorsports Park recently?) nor the potential re-use of a large, vacant   downtown building. He stated, “Birmingham already has a Civil Rights Museum in the downtown and we don’t need another one”. I ask you, how many opportunities like this have we lost?

    So, lets talk about the 800 lb gorilla in the room……..or we could continue to ignore it.

    Oh, before you call me a racist, let me tell you that I live in the downtown and for the last 7 years of my retirement, I’ve been a volunteer teacher at Phillips Academy, a 100% black inner city school.

    Sidney Conn

  3. *questions for Mr. Patterson and the other execs/Principals in his development firm:  where do you live in Birmingham?  It’s great to point out that people are “invested” in Birmingham but actions speak much louder than words.  Do you and your colleagues put your money where your mouth is?  You can’t build a movement towards reinvigorating a city by writing about it on blogs, discussing it at $40 black tie fundraisers, at Junior Board meetings and most importantly at your homes in the suburbs.  You’re either invested in the suburbs or you’re invested in the city.  Words are just that.  You can sit and talk about it or you can make it happen. All I see is a lot of talk from a lot of people.  It’s people like the brothers who own Avondale Brewing who actually invest in their own neighborhood who drive improvement.  If 1/3 of the people who like to talk about Birmingham being cool and improving actually made it happen maybe it wouldn’t lag so far behind.  Birmingham will never make the great strides needed until people young and old start making living in the downtown core a priority.  The downtown Publix is a move in the right direction but it’s inexcusable that didn’t happen 15 years ago.  You can’t cry over spilled milk but unless people now capitalize on that momentum it will just be another wasted opportunity.  If you can’t attract kids returning after college because they’d rather live in some house over the mountain, you’re recruiting the wrong people back to town.

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