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. (www.togetherweprosper.org) 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 Al.com.
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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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