A sharecropper is someone who raises crops for the owner of a piece of land and is paid a portion of the money from the sale of the crops.
We in Birmingham have always been controlled by outside landlords.
Birmingham is the city of iron and steel and historically U.S. Steel controlled every aspect of our lives-politics, business, and people. U.S. Steel is headquartered in Pittsburgh and was for much of Birmingham’s history our largest employer. Birmingham’s labor was first to be laid off and last to be rehired. All decisions favored Pittsburgh over Birmingham, and of course, all profits were sent up north.
Fortunately, U.S. Steel is no longer our largest employer, but unfortunately we are still being impacted. February 5th, U.S. Steel announced it could lay off up to 1,840 workers here.
But even though we are not now totally dependent on U.S. Steel, we are still controlled by outsiders.
Outside companies are buying up Birmingham
Birmingham companies are repeatedly being acquired by businesses headquartered out of state.
Fifteen years ago we had thirty public companies and six Fortune 500 Companies headquartered here. Now we have 15 public companies and one Fortune 500 Company—Regions Financial. Therefore many decisions that impact our region are made from out of state.
We’ve lost many of our major banks. Recently we lost Colonial Properties Trust to Memphis, Protective Life to Japan, and the last of our major utilities, Alabama Gas, to the Laclede Group of St. Louis. (AT&T and Southern Company–Atlanta).
Birmingham’s non-public companies are also targets of outside acquisition. Sellers Richardson Holman & West, Integrated Medical Systems, All Seasons Travel, Riteway Service, Boatright Railroad Products, Ivan Leonard Chevrolet, and MedCenter Mazda are a few of our many companies who have been sold.
Montgomery controls Birmingham
And it’s not just business–it’s also government. The capital of Alabama is Montgomery and our State government has never been kind to Birmingham. Thanks to politics in Montgomery, Birmingham was the last major city in the United States to complete our Interstate System.
And because of our outdated State Constitution, Jefferson County doesn’t have home rule–so most of our major financial decisions are decided by the Alabama State Legislature—not us.
UA Board of Trustees control UAB
Much of our media recently has been dominated by the loss of football at UAB and the University of Alabama Board of Trustees’ role in managing UAB. There is much discussion about creating a separate BOT’s for UAB–or at least having proportional representation by UAB, but as of right now, decisions impacting UAB and Birmingham are made by the University of Alabama.
Outside interests control our future
We don’t have control of our own destiny–we look to Pittsburgh, Montgomery, or Tuscaloosa.
And what is our response? We stay divided into our 35 separate municipalities and let outside landlords dictate our future.
The City of Birmingham is always left to fight alone
The City of Birmingham represents less than one third of Jefferson County and less than 20% of our metropolitan area—yet it is left alone to fight all our battles. Whether it’s Railroad Park, Regions Field, attracting the World Games, or fighting for Blazer Football, it’s always the City of Birmingham fighting alone. Where are the Mayors and City Councils of Hoover, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mt. Brook or Trussville?
The solution: A common vision for our region
If we are to stand up to cities like Nashville, Charlotte, or Austin, then we need to get out of our silos, create a common vision, and work together as one community.
Only then can we quit taking orders from outsiders and achieve our potential.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12, a division of Intermark Group, and co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).