One of the greatest obstacles to metropolitan Birmingham’s growth is too many competing governments, but that’s not the only deterrent.
Being located in Alabama is also an obstacle.
The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) publishes a report that compares key economic figures of metropolitan Birmingham to eleven peer cities.
In my opinion, the most important of these key metrics is job growth. And metropolitan Birmingham has no more jobs than they had before the recession.
The BBA points out that we have improved in the rankings from 12th (last) in 2001-2010 to 8th in 2010-2014.
That does sound like we’re doing better, but let’s take a closer look:
2010-2014 Annual Average Employment (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 18, 2015
|Oklahoma City +9%|
Note all the poor performing cities are in Alabama except Memphis. (Memphis defeated a government consolidation election in 2010 and suffers from many of the same governance issues as Birmingham).
And should we really be comparing ourselves to Huntsville, Montgomery, and Mobile–all in our Alabama family? Are they really our peer cities?
Why haven’t Alabama cities been able to grow jobs?
There are the obvious reasons why Alabama cities are stagnant. Our State suffers from poor education, low income, lack of support for public transportation, an outdated constitution, and unfair taxes. (Note that citizens who live in Tennessee and Florida do not have to pay personal income taxes. If you are a CEO looking to move your company—no income tax is pretty compelling)
And there is one more critical factor.
Leslie Berlin explains in her book, The history of Silicon Valley and why it remains such a powerful economic generator, how Silicon Valley was born and why it continues to prosper.
Ms. Berlin says there are many reasons for Silicon Valley’s success, but one of the most critical is immigration…
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of immigrants to the region and to the modern tech industry. Nearly 37 percent of the people in Silicon Valley today were born outside of the United States…Half of Silicon Valley households speak a language other than English in the home. Sixty-five percent of the people with Bachelor’s degrees working in science and engineering in the valley were born in another country…
… From 1995 to 2005, more than half of all Silicon Valley startups had at least one founder who was born outside the United States. Their businesses — companies like Google and eBay — have created American jobs and billions of dollars in American market capitalization.”
The people of Alabama have made it clear that many immigrants are not welcome. I know the animosity is towards illegal immigration, but we often seem to give the impression that we don’t welcome people who don’t look, act, or think like us.
And that’s a shame because our north Alabama region has the makings of a Silicon Valley-like tech corridor. Birmingham is anchored by UAB; we have over 700 high tech companies (according to BBA); we have a vibrant Innovation Depot; and Huntsville, our neighbor to the north, is home to many high tech companies including HudsonAlpha.
Birmingham has many challenges and being located in Alabama is another one.
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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).