I was driving to Atlanta to visit my family during afternoon rush hour traffic.
It took almost an hour to exit from I-285 to Georgia 400 in Atlanta–almost as much time as it took to drive from Birmingham to Anniston.
I kept asking myself —how can people live like this?
According to INRIX’s 2016 Global Traffic Scorecard, Atlanta’s traffic is one of the worst in the world–70.8 hours in traffic each year. That’s almost nine eight hour work days in traffic. That compares to about 16 hours for Birmingham.
People are always warning me—“We don’t want to be another Atlanta!”
I’ve always felt this was an irrational fear—since our seven county metropolitan area has had virtually no population or job growth this century. It’s highly unlikely we’re going to be another Atlanta. In fact, we’ll be fortunate to remain a viable Birmingham.
Then Amazon made this crazy announcement that it was looking for a second headquarters.
It set public officials and economic development folks from Birmingham and 237 other cities into a frenzy.
People accused me of being the devil
In a previous piece I wrote that I clearly saw the benefits of submitting an offer –which we did–but I was scared to death we would be selected.
People attacked me as if I were an evil traitor.
This intense animosity caught me by surprise.
These were many of the same folks who had warned me that they didn’t want us to become another Atlanta.
We can’t have it both ways.
If we somehow won the lottery and did actually get the Amazon headquarters—we would most definitely become Atlanta 2.0.
The unintended consequences of Birmingham winning the Amazon competition
Dan Lovell, the Director of Graham & Company’s Office Group, in al.com, estimated that “Amazon wants a footprint equivalent to all of Birmingham’s office space in the entire central business district – combined…that includes the power company, city offices, all of the single tenant buildings. We’d be creating an additional central business district.”
And how about those 50,000 jobs promised by Amazon?
Add an additional 40,000 employees from other companies to support Amazon—as they have in Seattle—and you get a sense of the impact on Birmingham.
To give perspective…Mercedes employs 4,000 people in Alabama after 20 years.
We would be adding 90,000 jobs.
Birmingham should change for Birmingham—not just for Amazon
Ty West, Editor and Chief of The Birmingham Business Journal, got it exactly right when he wrote that Birmingham leaders have promised to make big changes to attract Amazon. “Those same leaders should be willing to stand together, Amazon or no Amazon, and pledge to support transit, nonstop flights and other changes that must be made to put us in position to land Amazon or the next project down the road.”
We have very limited public transportation and highways 280, 31, and 65 are already over taxed. Our airport has very few direct flights, and we need to make significant improvements in our public education.
Why wait for Amazon? Let’s do it for ourselves
There are scores of companies around the world looking to expand or move. Let’s build our basic infrastructure so we can be ready for them.
New Jersey is offering Amazon a $7 billion package of tax breaks. We don’t know what our Birmingham offer includes—but I promise you it’s a bundle.
Let’s take a small portion of that money and invest in ourselves.
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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).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org