Birmingham: Silicon Valley ‘eat’ your heart out

Joshua Jones
Joshua Jones, Managing Partner, StrategyWise, Birmingham’s fastest growing company

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

Today’s guest blogger is Joshua Jones.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

I’ve considered myself lucky to have spent most of my life traversing different cities, countries and cultures.

As a teenager, I started and sold a series of companies while exploring and working in Latin America. Later, my wife and I moved with our children to Japan, where I worked for a non-profit organization as their Asia Director.

Over the course of my career, I’ve marveled at cultures and cuisines from Hong Kong and Singapore to Istanbul and Islamabad. No matter where I’ve been in the world, the shortest path to understanding the pride of people and their culture has been straight through their food. If you’ve ever savored the habanero kick added to a corn tortilla street taco in Mexico or slurped down a bowl of real Japanese ramen, you know what I’m talking about.  Ask a Jordanian about the best way to cook lamb or a Vietnamese where to find a good bowl of pho ga and you’ll see a grin of pride emerge.

After years of living and working overseas, it was puzzling to our global collection of family and friends when we announced that we were moving back to the US to settle down in Birmingham, Alabama. A city with few direct flights, cosmopolitan by no means, and from a global sense, located in the middle of nowhere.

But you know what—Birmingham is an awesome city. From my view, it can hold its own with some of the great cities in America. I’m not saying our city is perfect, but there’s a reason that ‘Top Ten’ lists from Forbes to Lonely Planet are singing our praises.

Just the other night, a potential recruit had flown to town to meet with me. His past startup venture was funded on Shark Tank, and we were talking about some of the professional athletes he had met while growing his sports business. When he mentioned that he liked a good underdog story, it dawned on me:

Birmingham is the quintessential underdog story.

Not just in the sense that you feel sorry for our team, but in the classic tale where the underdog starts to look like he has a real chance of being a winner.

As I drove my new acquaintance to the airport that evening, I detoured through a few of Homewood’s and Mountain Brook’s neighborhoods. We compared housing prices to those in Austin and Silicon Valley. He was shocked, as most of our new recruits are. A three-bedroom home with a yard here comes with the same price as a studio apartment there.

He then asked about my daily commute downtown from Homewood: 10 minutes. Food scene? Absolutely. Sure, not as exhaustive as New York, but a strong enough rotation to keep us happy. Craft beer? You might as well call us “Beermingham.”

Last month, StrategyWise was honored by the BBJ by being named Birmingham’s Fastest Growing Company. As I chatted at the award reception with other Fast Track 30 Winners, a common theme emerged: many of us have developed a routine when hosting out-of-town recruits in our beloved city. Barons games at Regions Field, beers at Good People (try the Snake Handler) or maybe the rooftop at Carrigans. Tacos at El Barrio or head across the street to Bamboo.

Whenever we need to dial it up, Chris Hastings and Frank Stitt can always serve up something extraordinary. Gianmarco’s, Ocean, and Perry’s are equally top of mind.

If StrategyWise recruits stay long enough, our stops include The Club for one of the city’s best views, Barber Museum, McWane Science Center if they have kids, or an afternoon stroll through Railroad Park and the Rotary Trail. For those wanting a true taste of the South, Saw’s BBQ, Dreamland, and Nikki’s West are always in mind for a truly authentic taste of the south.

These familiar places are becoming usual haunts on the trail of the Birmingham Comeback story, but for outsiders looking in, it hasn’t gotten old yet. Our city is just getting started.

Joshua Jones is Managing Partner of StrategyWise, a Data Science consulting firm headquartered in downtown Birmingham. StrategyWise helps clients maximize their effectiveness by leveraging the power of Big Data and Business Analytics to drive performance and customer satisfaction.

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David Sher is Co-Founder 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 “Birmingham: Silicon Valley ‘eat’ your heart out”

  1. Congratulations on your success. But, when you live IN the city then you can start calling it “our” city. Until then, you are all bluster and lack credibility. You are in the exact same category as the people who fled to Greystone or Pelham years ago. Until you reside in and vote in the city, you are doing very little to change the outside perception or the reality of Birmingham.

    1. If you look at the taxes he’s paying on rent for his office that he located in “the city of” Birmingham, count the number of employees he’s recruited from other cities, many who now live in the city of Birmingham, count the number of employee’s meals being purchased downtown (and sales taxes paid), and consider the positive national attention he’s bringing, etc., it might add up to more than you’d think. I’m sure they could have found better deals on office space in Hoover or Pelham, so don’t be too quick to write them off as not being a key part of the solution Birmingham needs – local jobs.

      And from what I can tell, he’s referencing the metro area of Birmingham as a city, just like people in Vinings or Decatur say they’re from “Atlanta”.

  2. David, what you describe is one more story in a long conversation as to why we need a regional government to handle basic human services. Thanks for continuing to beat the drum. One day, and I hope in the not too distant future, we may wake up from this nightmarish condition…

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