Have you ever heard someone say, “Birmingham’s limited because we don’t have the wealth of other cities?”
That’s just not true.
Many of us think of Birmingham as this impoverished town with low wages and a poor standard of living. But the facts and actions of our citizens tell another story.
I first got a hint of Birmingham’s wealth when the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) hired Market Street Services to prepare its strategic plan. One of the statistics presented was income per capita—a number I expected to be low–but I was wrong.
- Austin $42,902
- Raleigh $42,709
- Birmingham-Hoover $41,850
- Huntsville $41,595
- Louisville $40,970
- Atlanta $40,963
- Charlotte $40,465
- Memphis $40,288
- Montgomery $37,905
- Mobile $32,772
How’s it possible that Birmingham’s per capita income is higher than cities like Louisville, Atlanta and Charlotte?
Where did this money come from?
We may get depressed when we read about all the local businesses that are sold to out of state firms. But the money from those sales stays right here at home.
In the past few months sales of the following local private companies were announced: All Seasons Travel, Riteway Services, Integrated Medical Systems (IMS) and Boatright Railroad Products. These are multi-million dollar transactions, and since they are private, we don’t know the sales price of each, but al.com published that IMS sold for $175 million.
We also continue to lose our public companies—but even when our public companies are acquired—a good portion of that money flows right back to Birmingham.
And what about the dollars generated day after day by private companies headquartered here in Birmingham?
According to the BBJ, fifteen years ago Birmingham had only one private company with sales of $1 billion. Now there are six with sales of $1 billion or more and seven with sales greater than $500 million.
Companies with sales of over $1 billion:
- Drummond Company $3 billion
- EBSCO Industries $2.4 billion
- O’Neal Industries $2.3 billion
- Brasfield & Gorrie $2.02 billion
- McWane $1.6 billion
- American Cast Iron Pipe $1 billion
Companies with sales of over $500 million
- Coca-Cola Bottling United $775 million
- Robins & Morton $759 million
- Mayer Electric Supply $671 million
- Bill Harbert International $657 million
- Consolidated Pipe & Supply $604 million
- The McPherson Cos $604 million
- Buffalo Rock $600 million
Principals in these companies have money. According to Forbes, the Stephens family of EBSCO Industries has an estimated net worth of $4 billion.
Great wealth is a good thing, but what really distinguishes us is the generosity of our citizens. Drive around town and note the names on buildings and venues—The Alys Stephens Center, McWane Science Center, UAB Collat School of Business, and Barber Motorsports Park–to name a few.
Private money saved Vulcan and resurected our Zoo. Railroad Park would never have been developed without private contributions. The Lyric Theatre recently surpassed its $7 million fundraising goal. The Rotary Club of Birmingham raised $4.5 million for our new Rotary Trail. And UAB is in the process of raising $1 billion.
Folks in other states marvel at our local United Way. In order to belong to the United Way’s Tocqueville Society, donors must contribute $10,000 a year or more. Our Tocqueville Society has 725 members and is the 4th largest in the U.S. Our Tocqueville Society has more donors than cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. 725 people/families donate $10,000 a year or more–pretty impressive!
And we’re recognized nationally for our charitable giving. Last month mylife recognized Birmingham as the number one city in the United States for the percentage of income donated to charity.
We in Birmingham often spend too much time and energy concentrating on our limitations.
Birmingham is not impoverished. We can do anything we want with a community vision.
After all, we are blessed both with an abundance of private wealth and the most generous people in America.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency 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).