An idea that would transform Birmingham

Sam Addy
Sam Addy, Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama

How about an idea most people think would transform Birmingham–but they will not consider because they think it would be impossible to implement?

You may say we don’t need to do anything different because we’re making progress.  We are making progress, but let‘s look at how metro Birmingham compares to our regional rivals in several key areas. (Birmingham Business Journal January 10, 2014).

Comparison of eight peer cities:  Birmingham, Austin, Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City:

  • 1 year job growth:  Birmingham metro last
  • 5 year job growth:  Birmingham metro last
  • 1-year home-value growth:  Birmingham metro last
  • Population growth (2000-2010):  Birmingham metro next to last (ahead of New Orleans…(Katrina))
  • Percent of adults with Bachelor Degrees:  Birmingham metro next to last (ahead of New Orleans)

So what is holding us back?

Sam Addy, when asked about the above statistics in the BBJ said…

Much of Birmingham’s struggles actually stem from the public sector, specifically the lack of cohesiveness among governments and the lack of home rule.”

“I think that’s the main constraint on Birmingham.  For development, both the public and private sector have to move forward; you can’t pull back.

The economy is a fabric, made up of (those) two parts, if you short-change one; you are effectively short-changing them both.”

Cindy Crawford, Editor of the BBJ, wrote in an editorial on January 3, 2013

When I mentioned the need for more regional cooperation in last year’s resolution column, I said I was beating a dead horse by even bringing it up. Well, the horse has been buried, but I’m still going to grab a bat and rev up for battle with it in 2014. Now, I do that because the discussion grew legs last year, with a few business leaders coming out to push for an easier-to-swallow-and-accomplish version of government consolidation.

Bayer Properties CEO Jeffrey Bayer took on the issue in this publication and in David Sher’s Comeback Town blog, suggesting the region consolidate the governments of Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham.

It’s a plan more digestible than the dozens of neighborhoods and incorporated towns and cities in our metro coming together. The county and city have many duplicated services. It would save taxpayers’ dollars to operate them as one entity.

Should it make a difference to you that metro Birmingham is not competitive?  If you own a home in metro Birmingham and Birmingham home prices are stagnant (-.1% past 12 months) or you have a job here and our metro area creates fewer jobs (-1% past 12 months), then it should make a big difference.

Some sort of government consolidation along with home rule gives us our best chance for success.  If not consolidation, then what?  Are we willing to be stagnant when our peer cities are progressing?  Consolidation is working for Nashville; it’s working  for Charlotte; and it will work for Birmingham.

Consolidation might be difficult, but we can find a way that would be unique to us. Some people assume our schools would have to be combined, but schools weren’t combined when Indianapolis consolidated.  Charlotte did a functional consolidation dividing tasks between city and county.

Let’s begin a conversation about consolidation–a conversation that will improve our standard of living–a conversation that will give us and our children better jobs and more opportunity–yes, a conversation that would transform Birmingham.

(Editor’s note:  Other comparisons in BBJ article: metro Birmingham:  Earnings per worker 5th; 5-year earnings growth 2nd; current jobless rate 1st)

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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7 thoughts on “An idea that would transform Birmingham”

  1. I completely agree with consolidation of our city/cities and county government. I’ve always thought it strange that you can drive in, out, and then back in cities on the same road all within a mile or so. I do question the  vitals of the county, the momentum that birmingham is gaining. Would a merger with the county be a hinderance? Home rule, with our current legislature?  *one county – one city*

    1. Almost everyone thinks that some kind of consolidation would be good for our metro–but they dismiss the idea because they think it would be impossible. Jefferson County has its bankruptcy behind them–now it’s time to look to the future. We would have more resources and common vision if we were all together.

  2. *You need to get the Jefferson County Mayors Association involved with the twelve independent school systems in Jefferson County first for obvious reasons. I find it very encouraging the current Jefferson County Commision and the Birmingham City Council and Mayor may began to have some monthly meetings this year?

    Peace,George Munchus

    School of Business at UAB 

  3. *With such sad statistics it seems logical to consider programs which work in other cities. Thank you for keeping this matter a priority.

  4. It seems to me that when we talk about consolidation of governments in the county, it is a little misleading to talk about Nashville or Charlotte.  Neither of those cities look anything like the Birmingham metropolitan area. Their histories are different. Their cultures are different and their employment base is different.

    Let’s talk about a city that is more like ours. Let’s talk about Memphis. Putting everything under one government has not been the panacea predicted.

    Consolidation may be an excellent idea, but it bears very careful consideration before rushing forward.  Sometimes when you get what you ask for, it isn’t what you expected.


    1. Wally, thanks for your comments. I’m curious. How do you explain Birmingham’s lack of progress–if not for segmented/dysfunctional government–including lack of home rule? Birmingham’s in the the heart of the South–the fastest growing region in the U.S. Our people are smart and generous. Everyone agrees metro Birmingham is beautiful.

  5. I looked at to get an idea how Nashville consolidation was accomplished.

    “In 1952, a new study, A Future for Nashville, was published by the Community Services Commission, a joint commission of Davidson County and the city of Nashville, created to study the provision of services.”

    It appears a study of the combination of services was the first step.

    What organization do we have to commission our own study?

    I believe in the old saying “Actions speak louder than words”

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