ComebackTown is published by David Sher & Phyllis Neill to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Mark Naggar. We love to hear from young professionals. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
Birmingham will forever have a special place in my heart – it’s my hometown. My parents, both immigrants, relocated to Birmingham in the 70’s and I have both the pleasure and privilege to say I’m a Magic City native. My father owned and operated a retail business on 2nd Avenue North just steps away from what is now the McWane Center. I spent much of my childhood downtown helping (and playing) in that store and exploring downtown.
Growing up, that area was as much home to me as our real home or my time spent attending The University of Alabama. While I’m no longer a Birmingham resident, my connection to the city remains strong as ever. Readers of this blog and the countless others who are equally committed all want Birmingham to become more prosperous and continue striving to be the best city it can be.
The Vulcan Advantage
Birmingham is home to the largest cast iron statue in the world, which depicts the Roman god Vulcan, the god of fire and forge. Vulcan, a longtime city symbol, has seen Birmingham’s dark days, struggles, and accomplishments. Whether or not you’re a Roman mythology expert (for the record, I’m not), surely you can make a correlation between Vulcan’s Roman mythological powers and Birmingham’s true ability to forge a comeback by utilizing a concentrated community effort.
Understanding Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Did you know that 2/3 of all new jobs are created by small businesses? It’s a staggering figure, yet true. Birmingham’s continued resurgence has been innovation and entrepreneurship – from Railroad Park to Regions Field, Art on the Rocks to the Free the Hops movement and its accompanying emerging brewery scene, not to mention the renowned and creative culinary features. All of this contributes to the economy and attractiveness of Birmingham, but if you look around the nation you will see that many other cities are doing similar things and having similar movements. Every city wants to be the “It” city and some have more resources and experience than Birmingham does. The key to getting to the top and staying there is continuously improving. Look at Nick Saban, Google, Amazon, and others. They keep developing new goods, services, or championship teams (in Saban’s case). Innovation and entrepreneurship is about solving problems or filling needs while finding a business/civic model that works, and each city has their own needs (Birmingham is no different). It’s also about ideation, execution, iteration, and always being in Beta – continually improving!
Building a Thriving Ecosystem
Birmingham needs to invest in itself, its citizens, and its future. There’s a clear desire to create a thriving city that attracts economic dollars and attention. You don’t have to woo corporations to Alabama when you can create them. This is called economic gardening (thus, cultivating the economy). The city and state are full of creative, intelligent people who have ideas to solve problems. Most aspiring (and some existing) entrepreneurs simply don’t know where to start or how to find funding. Why not take a community approach and look what the rest of America is doing so you can create the city of your dreams? Public policy and legislation may play a role – it usually does.
Here’s My Idea!
Establish an interactive (physical and online) Birmingham innovation lab where interested parties can work alongside like-minded peers with different backgrounds and skill sets to solve problems and help people start and grow their businesses, greater benefitting the Birmingham metro area. You can also tackle civic issues, maybe one or two at a time and build from there. How you do it and who takes charge is up to you, but it should be collaborative in order to succeed. Developing an approach that works is difficult, but you don’t have to look too far to see amazing CrowdSourcing examples such as Quirky.com and KickStarter.com.
- Understand and support innovation and entrepreneurship efforts – they create jobs
- Engage and empower the public and private sector to solve challenges together, then hold them accountable
- Cultivate the Birmingham economic ecosystem that you’ve always dreamt of
Inform, Inspire, and Encourage the Birmingham Community
Innovation involves experimenting, which sometimes results in failure. There’s a saying – “If you haven’t tried, you haven’t failed”. Creating the Birmingham you want requires everyone to play a role. What will yours be? It’s time to add more truth to Vulcan’s mythology, so let’s wake the resting giant and harness that fire to forge AND sustain a comeback!
Mark Naggar is a Birmingham native and author of The Rooster’s Crow: Answering the Call for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Across America. He currently lives in Atlanta where he works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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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).