How Birmingham may have missed out on 103,000 jobs

Dave Gray , President & CEO of Daxko
Dave Gray, President & CEO of Daxko

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

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

Huntsville is on track to surpass Birmingham as Alabama’s largest city.

This is a blow to our civic pride, but it also reflects far deeper issues in our metro area.

Our struggles to work together are hurting us. We’re not resolving issues that hold us back. We are not setting or achieving big goals that would make us more competitive. We’re fighting with each other over pieces of the pie rather than working together to build a bigger pie.

The good news is we can fix this— and it doesn’t require us to consolidate the 35 municipalities in Jefferson County. Metro areas far more divided than ours have found ways to work together without dismantling cities, school systems or other local institutions.

With all due respect to Huntsville, it’s not rocket science.

The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham released a report in 2017 that examined how four other metro areas work together to advance their region. ( The report points to options for us:

  • Our local governments could work together by sharing a wider range of services than we currently do. In Charlotte, North Carolina, the city and county divide up the labor of government so it can be delivered with more efficiency and impact to support impressive economic growth.
  • We could entrust more services to Jefferson County’s government, which already plays a regional role. This has been done in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which has 130 municipalities, including Pittsburgh. As a result of the county’s expanded role, the Pittsburgh metro area has improved services, made major investments and become increasingly competitive, particularly in technology and innovation.
  • We could lean more on the Jefferson County Mayors Association, which already plays a regional role and fosters collaboration among mayors. In Denver’s metro area, mayors work together to set and achieve a regional agenda, and their efforts have generated a world-class transportation system and a thriving economy.

These aren’t quick fixes, but they aren’t complicated and could put us on a path to becoming more competitive.

Between 2000 and 2016, the net job growth for Birmingham’s metro area was 0.24 percent, according to the Community Foundation’s study on regional cooperation.

That puts us in line with other fragmented metro areas — but far behind metro areas that are less fragmented or that have found ways to work together. In cooperative metro areas, job growth from 2000-2016 ranged from 20 percent to 50 percent. A 20 percent job growth in Birmingham’s metro area over those years would have meant 103,000 additional jobs. That is a huge missed opportunity.

It’s worth noting that several cities still in the mix for Amazon’s new headquarters, including Denver and Pittsburgh, have worked deliberately for years to improve cooperation in their region.

We must do likewise. To compete in an economy driven by technology, we must appeal to innovators, be responsive to new opportunities, and have governments that solve problems. Divisions hold us back today; they will cripple us tomorrow.

If we don’t pull together to set our metro area on a course for success, we will continue to lose stature and become less competitive.

This is about our children and grandchildren. We will give them a foundation to prosper here, or they will go somewhere else.

Dave Gray is President and CEO of Birmingham- based tech firm Daxko and served on the advisory committee that helped guide the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham’s study on regional cooperation.

This piece originally appeared in

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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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3 thoughts on “How Birmingham may have missed out on 103,000 jobs”

  1. Or you could just leave and go somewhere else that pays more and offers substantially more entertainment options. I got tired of waiting around for something that would take decades to fix. The first thing you have to do is figure out how to keep millennials from flooding to Nashville/Atlanta. I honestly don’t think that’s possible. The ones who are moving are your best movers & shakers who have the means and ability to make change.

    1. Hi! Millennial here. Grew up in Atlanta and moved to Birmingham for grad school. I’ve served on multiple boards in the city and was named as a Rising Star of Money… and guess what? My wife and I love Birmingham. We are concerned with cost of living and where we want to raise our families, just like other adults. Just because you could make more in another city, does not mean that money will go as far as it will here.

      There is a lot to love about Birmingham. To me, it’s exciting to be part of a city that is on the rise. Are there great things to do in Nashville/Atlanta? Sure. Are there great things about Birmingham? Absolutely. I grew up in Metro Atlanta and I can tell you that the size and traffic are things I do not want to go back to. I love the size of Birmingham, our food scene, my neighborhood, and my job. I’m excited about helping Birmingham grow and fulfill it’s potential.

      1. There are no doubt many success stories to be told by people in Bham. You’re a success story where the career and city were a great match for you. But there are many more of these “matches made in heaven” found in other cities.

        If Bham offered to most people, what it offers to you, more people would stay.

        And you’re wrong about money going further. There is not a 1 to 1 ratio of income to expense. Housing might cost more (but your equity is often greater), but normal everyday things are about the same. A burger isn’t that much different. Grocery items aren’t that different. I almost moved to LA and the only thing that was really astronomical was home prices, even rent was a couple hundred more. Not a big deal with you’re making 10-50k more for the same job. The opportunities to do well and succeed in many diverse areas is nonexistant in Bham unless you’re in Healthcare.

        I think the key is this. There is more OPPORTUNITY to spend more money, therefore you often do. But that’s because there’s more shopping, more high end food, more entertainment, higher standards for every-day living.

        “Metro Atlanta” can mean a lot of things and everyone is looking for something different. You happen to be in the minority because more millennials are more excited about other places than you.

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