Rarely do you have an opportunity to read an article that clearly shows why we’ve had virtually no job growth in our metropolitan area.
Erin Edgemon of al.com recently wrote a piece about how a Jefferson County municipality took a big gamble and lost.
Edgemon described how Gardendale tried to abandon Jefferson County Schools to start its own school system and failed.
Gardendale was “called racist. It’s been criticized in federal court and censured in the national media for an attempt to increase resegregation in Jefferson County schools.”
“So the city is focusing on another risky endeavor — recruiting retail in a time where sales at brick and mortar stores continue to decline across the country.”
Gardendale’s Mayor Stan Hogeland said the city did not have racist motives for trying to start a school system. “Gardendale is an aging community, and the city was trying to combat this trend by attracting young families with a smaller, well-funded school system.”
“Young families are choosing Homewood, Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook over Gardendale because of their highly rated, breakaway school systems. Meanwhile, Gardendale remains part of the larger Jefferson County system.”
Whatever the intent of Gardendale’s leadership, you would have to agree with Mayor Hogeland that a good school system would be attractive to young families.
So Gardendale is left with the risky option of investing millions of dollars to recruit retail when thousands of retail stores across our nation are closing their doors.
Gardendale is not alone
Gardendale is one of 35 municipalities in Jefferson County–many which are struggling financially.
In 2016 Fairfield lost Wal-Mart, its largest revenue generator.
Early this year, Irondale lost Sams, its largest revenue generator.
Cardiff, the smallest town in Jefferson County is struggling just to exist.
Since municipalities depend heavily on sales tax revenue, how can they survive long term when our Birmingham region is static and sales taxes are falling?
Heads we lose; tails we lose
What happens to Gardendale if its efforts to attract retail fail? It has already paid $9 million to purchase real estate to build a shopping center and soon will begin investing even more cash to build infrastructure.
On the other hand, what happens if Gardendale is successful?
Since metropolitan Birmingham is not growing, the new retail center would just suck tax revenues away from one of Gardendale’s neighbors.
Our region loses either way.
It’s a vicious cycle.
We can’t keep stealing from one another.
We must make the pie larger
We don’t have to combine or consolidate our cities, but we do need to embrace a new mindset.
Every Jefferson County city that can afford one has its own economic development office with a narrow minded intent of holding onto its own businesses or stealing them away from a neighboring municipality.
Our mayors need to have the vision and bravery to get together to develop a plan to recruit businesses from outside our region.
The mayors of Mountain Brook, Homewood, Hoover, and Vestavia Hills have taken the first step to meet to discuss common problems and opportunities.
We just need to add a few more mayors to develop a dynamic regional economic development plan.
If our region grows, then municipalities within our region will also grow.
Join me in urging your mayor to become a team player–then we all can win.
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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