The rocket fuel that could launch Birmingham!

Jim, Dixon, President of Arlington Properties
Jim Dixon, President of Arlington Properties

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

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

What makes a city great?

My team should know—we evaluate cities every day.

Our work as real estate developers requires us to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of cities and towns before we ever search for and underwrite development or investment opportunities.

We’ve developed and rehabilitated more than 25,000 multifamily units in the Southeast and Midwest.

Pushing others off the hill is not the best game plan

When I was a little boy, King of the Hill was a favorite game that my brother, our neighborhood friends and I played on the not so small and somewhat rocky hill next to our house.

The object of the game, as we all know, is for the “King” at the top of the hill to push all the other kids back down the hill before they reach the hilltop and become the new “King”.  It was great fun in a “Lord of the Flies”/every man for himself kind of way.

Despite the fun we had, King of the Hill is not the most effective game plan for success in adult life.

Teamwork and cooperation are the most effective tools and traits of high performing companies, organizations and partnerships.

It is the triumph of organization over chaos – of team over tyrant.

Three characteristics that predict success

Our experience has taught us to quickly look for three characteristics that, we believe, propel economic, cultural and civic growth in cities and towns and will further the economic success of our real estate developments.

Those three characteristics are the presence of

  •  State government
  •  A large university
  •  A metro or regionally cooperative form of government

Not every successful city possesses all three criteria.   Some cities, such as Baton Rouge and Columbus, Ohio, do very well by having the state capital and a large university.  These are fairly stable cities that reliably grow and produce jobs.

But, #3, the presence of a metro or regionally cooperative form of government, is the single greatest predictor of a locality’s long term success in creating and attractive jobs, developing exciting entertainment opportunities and generally creating the lifestyle that appeals to the young and energized.

A metro government that unifies and focuses a city’s actions is the rocket fuel that vaults a metro area from mediocre to great.

It is the victory of teamwork over King of the Hill.

Consider the following: according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Birmingham created 25,000 jobs from 2013 to 2018.  Compare our job growth numbers to “peer” cities with metro governments:

  • Jacksonville, FL:  100,800
  • Nashville:                158,800
  • Louisville:                  60,800
  • Indianapolis:         103,800
  • Birmingham:            25,000

These more successful towns are not perfect and they certainly are not populated by perfect people or perfect elected officials.  They are made up of the same wonderful mix of personalities I proudly recognize in my fellow Birminghamians and in our elected officials.

But these cities have an advantage over Birmingham.  Their governments think, act, plan and allocate resources over a much broader area of their MSA.  Additionally, they do this much more rationally and effectively that we can with our fragmented and multiple governments.  They are focused on growth in a way Birmingham currently cannot be.

Those cities’ focused teamwork is going to beat us every day of the week.

I know there are challenges to forming a metro government in Birmingham.  I know there are those who say it can never happen in Birmingham.

It has happened all across the Southeast, in cities and towns that were once slow growth cities just like Birmingham.  I know this because I experience it firsthand.  I see it every time I exit an airplane to invest my time and resources in these booming cities that took the hard but required steps to propel their growth.

If we want sustained and positive job growth, if we want to create opportunities for our children to make their careers in Birmingham then we need to get real about the hard choices it will take to make that happen.

In the eyes of someone who sees our Southeastern peer cities booming, the choice is to embark, once again, on the hard and valuable work of creating a metro government.

Jim Dixon is the President of Arlington Properties, Inc and Vice Chairman of Arlington Construction Services.  Arlington Properties develops, builds and manages apartment communities throughout the Southeast and Midwest. 

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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. dsher@amsher.com

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