ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Charles Ball. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
Recent news that Mercedes may be moving its U.S. headquarters to Atlanta or North Carolina should unnerve us. Why- Because it is just the most recent reminder of conversations we are not having, and opportunities we continue to miss.
Foreign Auto HQs. In 2006, Nashville lured Nissan’s U.S. headquarters from California. And they accomplished this without an international airport or even one daily flight to Japan. What they did have was a business community with an audacious, “can do” spirit and a Nissan plant down the road. Japanese-owned Bridgestone Tire moved there in 1991. So, why aren’t we talking about courting the headquarters of Mercedes, or Honda or Hyundai? Georgia may be willing to offer up to $50 million for Mercedes. We probably don’t have $50 million to offer, and we don’t have any flights to Germany. But Atlanta doesn’t have a Mercedes plant 30 miles from downtown. What do we have to lose?*
Here are a few other vital conversations we are not having in Birmingham:
Air Service. Contrary to popular belief, an attractive airport does not necessarily equal improved service. Just ask the folks in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. When Southwest bought into the Atlanta market a few years ago, I assumed local leaders would understand this would be a threat to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth because of the number of Atlanta-area residents flying Southwest out of Birmingham. I assumed wrongly. Now, our passenger count and number of flights have declined significantly. And to add insult to injury, we now have to fly to Atlanta or Nashville to get to the new Panama City airport from Birmingham. Is this the best we can do? How do we turn this around?
Scarcity of Industrial Sites. While sitting in a local City Council committee meeting recently, I learned that we are running out of sites for new and expanding industries. According to the speaker, the inventory is particularly low for sites with rail access. So, if this is indeed the case, what is the solution?
Renewable Energy Jobs. For the past seven years, Charlotte has worked to become the center for renewable energy engineering and manufacturing for everything from battery and electric car technology to nuclear and solar energy. Little Rock area is working to become the manufacturing center for wind energy equipment. What are we targeting?
The bottom line is that by not having robust public and private discussions on these and other important issues, we risk another 50 years of playing catch up to our Southeastern peers. So, let’s start paying more attention to what’s happening around us. Let’s begin using more of the audacity demonstrated with the DNC and World Games applications, the Railroad Park/Regions Field construction, and lest we forget, the recruitment of Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai. Time to wake up, talk more and start working some plans!
*Editor’s note: Since Mr. Ball wrote his piece, Mercedes made the decision to move its headquarters to Atlanta. Mercedes-Benz to invest $100M in Atlanta headquarters – Atlanta Business Chronicle
Charles Ball is a native of Birmingham. He completed his undergraduate work at Birmingham-Southern and received his Masters of Community Planning from Auburn University. Charles was appointed Executive Director of the Regional Planning Commission (RPC) in December 2006. He is active with a number of community nonprofits, he serves on the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE), and he is a member of the Rising Star Baptist Church.
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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).