A new generation of dreamers ready to build a dynamic Birmingham

Matt Hottle

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Matt Hottle.

If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

Recently, Comeback Town published an article from an anonymous author that was very critical of Birmingham and its prospects for the future.

I’m not quick to publicly criticize anyone’s opinion but this article bothered me because it was only offered anonymously and appeared to be written from a poorly informed viewpoint.

Not content to simply troll suburban neighborhood Facebook pages, we now see people skimming salacious headlines about fist-fights in City Council offices and outrageous European “economic development” trips by the Mayor’s office and use those embarrassing outliers as some kind of “I told you so” affirmation about how Birmingham is doomed.

Seemingly rooting for its ruination, people who spend zero time working with those striving to build businesses, push neighborhood revitalization and improve the quality of life in the city speak fervently about all the failings of Birmingham.

Birmingham is far from failing.

Every square inch of Innovation Depot is being utilized even as they “graduate” increasing numbers of incubated companies. REV Birmingham is inspiring entrepreneurs to take a leap of faith and supporting them with educational programs that cost a fraction of what they are actually worth. “Over the Mountain” companies like Barfield, Shank, Murphy and Smith are opening new offices downtown.

Matt Landers and Depot U are teaching people off the street how to write software code- virtually guaranteeing them immediate employment in $60k jobs upon graduation. Mickey Milsap and K12 Lean Labs are creating an educational incubator that pushes innovation in educational experiences for children right here in Birmingham.

Jones Valley Teaching Farm has launched its largest project to date at Woodlawn High School- effectively doubling its production capacity and educational program’s reach. The Lyric has been lovingly restored and stands, once again, as a crowning jewel of Birmingham.

Should I go on?

Spending time with some of the region’s intelligentsia reveals an optimism that probably hasn’t existed since Birmingham earned its “Magic City” nickname. Many of them point to construction of more residential properties as a clear signal this revitalization will actually stick.

As the demand for living downtown has increased, especially for young people, the corresponding economic development has inevitably followed. Office space is becoming harder to find and rental rates per square foot are rising steadily; further evidence this iteration of Birmingham’s reinvention may be significantly more durable.

I started a strategic management consulting firm to work exclusively with entrepreneurs and owner-operated companies.  Being based in Birmingham has been a boon for my business. The enthusiasm and access within the small business community here made our firm grow in ways not possible in other cities.

As some of our large companies slowly deteriorate with the erosion of the steel, coal and energy markets, we have a whole new generation of dreamers ready to build a more dynamic economy.

Birmingham is experiencing a real renaissance

The business and cultural community is experiencing a real renaissance and the entrenched detractors appear to be missing, ignoring or even denying most of it. We need to spend more effort working to support the city than the effort spent criticizing it.

There is work to do, no doubt, but that requires actual effort from the entire region- not just the city itself.

Matt Hottle owns Redhawk Consulting– a strategic management consulting firm specializing in entrepreneurial and closely-held companies. Matt and his family moved to Birmingham 6 years ago from Atlanta. He is a member of the Birmingham Zoo’s Junior Board and works closely with several economic development programs in and around Birmingham.

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David Sher is 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).

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4 thoughts on “A new generation of dreamers ready to build a dynamic Birmingham”

  1. This article is short on numbers and long on anecdotes. The issue of improvement extends beyond what Birmingham does but rather to how we compare to competitors including Nashville, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Louisville. Thomas Friedman in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/17/opinion/who-are-we.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region) suggests America’s three greatest sources of strength are a culture of entrepreneurship, an ethic of pluralism and the quality of our governing institutions. He cites Louisville’s five accelerators, a vibrant angel investor community and partnerships with large companies to support start-up enterprises. In Birmingham, our total score on Friedman’s three criteria even given an average level of entrepreneurship is lowered by our low level of pluralism and weak government institutions. A coherent strategy to addressing these real challenges might include expanding the collaboration of the city of Birmingham and UAB.  

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