Are Birmingham business leaders loopy?

Mobile Skyline
Mobile Skyline

Every seat was full at the Harbert Center last week.

Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, one of the largest companies in the world, addressed a joint luncheon of the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs of Birmingham.

Rotarians and Kiwanians were thrilled to have the opportunity to see such an influential business executive– and hear him sing the praises of Alabama.

Yes, Immelt and GE love Alabama!

Immelt and GE love Nick Saban and Alabama football!

Immelt and GE love Alabama so much that GE recently invested more than $250 million in our state.

There’s only one problem…

None of that investment—not one penny—was in our Birmingham region.

Mobile and Huntsville got it all.

We’re all tired of attending one meeting after another where a company exec from Mobile or Huntsville comes to town to tell us how excited we should be for them and Alabama. And, yes, one day they may consider Birmingham.

Do people think we are loopy?

Why should we celebrate everyone else’s victories?

Where is that elusive home run for Birmingham?

Where is our Airbus–our Remington–our GE?

Read these numbers and weep…

Total Employment Birmingham 7 County Metro (Year End)

  • 2006          535,600
  • 2007          538,700
  • 2008          525,300
  • 2009          496,300
  • 2010          495,400
  • 2011          500,300
  • 2012          506,500
  • 2013          514,400
  • 2014          516,900
  • 2015          520,600
  • 2016          524,800

Overall change 2006-2016  –2%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics and Economy.com. Employment figures are from the Current Employment Survey (CES). Unemployment rates are from the Current Population Survey (CPS). The figures are not seasonally adjusted.

If you’re in fast growing Shelby County, don’t get too excited—these job numbers include you too.

According to the  Birmingham Business Journal, Jefferson County lost population last year and is projected to grow only 1.4% in the next 23 years.

My business friends are building their businesses elsewhere because there’s no employment growth here.

We have cast this evil spell on ourselves.

Mobile and Huntsville work together–while we are divided.

When I was Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, we used to fly to Washington every year to present a list of priorities to our Senators and Congressional leaders.

Over the next several weeks there were competing trips by Jefferson County, the City of Birmingham, UAB, and Shelby County. One congressman told me that the list of priorities was different for every group.  His recommendation, “You guys need to go home and figure out what y’all want!

Meanwhile Huntsville and Madison County chartered two airplanes and flew 150 -200 business and political leaders to meet with their congressional leader as one unified group with a common agenda.

Our Birmingham Business Alliance (previously the Chamber) has discontinued these trips.  I don’t blame them.  Very little was accomplished.

As I write this piece, Wal-Mart announced plans to build a $135 million distribution center in Mobile, and create 550 full-time jobs.

In contrast,–and I kid you not– the same day’s Birmingham Business Journal’s lead story was the announcement of a new Vietnamese restaurant on 280.

2017 is our year

This year we will begin a serious conversation about community collaboration and cooperation.

Support that conversation—our jobs and our future depend on it.

I’m speaking publicly at the Bham Now BOLD speakers series on how to build our future– Thursday, April 13, upstairs at Avondale Brewery. Doors open at 5:30; speech at 6:00. Tickets are $10 advance; $15 at the door. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter. There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

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).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com

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4 thoughts on “Are Birmingham business leaders loopy?”

  1. Alright Mr. Sher, now you are at least pointed in the right direction. Kudos. Let’s see if you can put the car in drive and knock on the door of the BBA and find out WHY they are such an inept, worthless organization. Much of the lack of regional cooperation could be mitigated if the anemic business community would bet off its behind and give a rat’s _____ about the region it calls home.

    Other than George Barber, the Smith family of Royal Cup and now Shipt, and a small handful of others, the business community and its progeny have forsaken Birmingham and slapped it in the face. The Drummonds have spent …oh NOTHING in the city of Birmingham to build things, create things or make the city better. Harberts – nada. Hibett Sporting Goods, one of the few publicly traded companies in the area, sponsors and spends virtually no money on anything. I have never seen their name on anything other than a storefront. They will undoubtedly be sucked up by some foreign company and the loss of jobs will follow.

    I am not talking about giving $1,000 to the Mcwane Center. I am talking about building a world class motorcycle museum in Birmingham, AL. I am talking about the rotary trail. I am talking about constructing buildings in the city of Birmingham as opposed to letting them rot for decades. I am talking about attractions, museums, cultural amenities – things that generate civic pride. I am talking about taking a stand with votes and dollars against things like ride-sharing opposition, interstate placement, Blue Laws, and the things that businesses in places like Georgia and Tennessee fight for and against because they know it will improve their local areas.

    You know it, I know it, anyone who gives a damn about Birmingham knows it. The Birmingham Business Alliance is a weak, pathetic organization that has the third highest paid non-profit dictator in the state, while it stands idly creating ZERO jobs in Birmingham.

    When will you point out that since Brian Hilson – the lifelong Huntsville transplant – became CEO of the BBA, that Birmingham has lagged behind every other southeastern city in terms of job creation? When will you interview Brian Hilson and ask him where the BBA’s incredibly bloated budget goes? When will you ask him what return the city of Birmingham receives on its substantial annual investment in the BBA? When will you ask him why company after company, startup after startup, entrepreneur after entrepreneur all cite a lack of support from the BBA, a lack of desire from the BBA to attract and retain businesses, and a lack of even a shred of a backbone from the BBA?

    When will you ask him why the BBA did NOTHING to support ride-sharing in Birmingham? When will you ask him why they immediately denounced the killing of UAB football only to reverse stance 2 days later, anoint Watts Chairman less than a week later, and now a second time? When will you ask him why this line of text of on the BBA website, when it is 100% false – “The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) works tirelessly on regional cooperation between our elected leaders and business leaders to move this region forward.” When will you ask him to be accountable for the farcical 5-year, 10-year plans, blueprints, et al and show how many milestones and goals the BBA actually missed? Hint: Almost all of them.

    In fact Mr. Sher, you at one point in time started to truly become the voice we need and call out the BBA for its pathetic silence regarding ANY issue on which the business community could actually make this a world class city. In this very column in 2013, you wondered why the BBA refused to take a stand against ALDOT and its shortsighted 20/59 plan: https://comebacktown.com/2013/07/23/birmingham-2059-powerless-again/

    “And you may be wondering why a poll by the BBJ shows 85% of business people against the development, and yet the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) remains silent?” – David Sher

    The fact is that the Birmingham Business Alliance and Brian Hilson are as guilty or more guilty than any other entity in holding Birmingham back. Yes the Birmingham city leadership is wretched. Yes the state hates Birmingham. Yes, there needs to be more regional cooperation. But almost none of that would matter if the business community gave a damn about Birmingham and put even a fraction of its weight behind truly worthwhile initiatives. We have non-profits relying on peanuts from individuals creating more jobs, transforming more city blocks and turning more hollow buildings into revenue generating businesses in 1 year than the BBA does in 5.

    Why don’t you truly do the region a service and dig a little deeper into the questions you began to ask on July 23, 2013? Instead of telling us how we need regional cooperation, tell us HOW LITTLE THE BIRMINGHAM BUSINESS ALLIANCE has done to promote regional cooperation, to create jobs, and to improve the city.

  2. Reading this article has made me think hard again how a city like Birmingham can’t turn into a top 100 city. We have the largest employer in the State and why with the research in medical and engineering one would think. other industry’s would be looking for Birmingham as a home. So where are the drug tech companies?
    At 63 I never thought Birmingham would make a downtown miracle but it has and hope it continues. When I do get out downtown is my destination.

  3. Bad example on Walmart. They have operated a distribution center in Cullman since the early 1980’s. Zero sense to locate a second distribution operation 50 +\- miles south.

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