When I was growing up in the ‘50’s Birmingham and Atlanta were about the same size.
Birmingham was actually larger than Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin—but I digress.
My father took me to Rickwood Field to watch the Southern League Birmingham Barons play baseball against the Atlanta Crackers.
Birmingham still has the Barons, but Atlanta has the Atlanta Braves (baseball), Atlanta Falcons (football), Atlanta Hawks (basketball), Atlanta United FC (soccer), and the Atlanta Dream (Women’s National Basketball).
Birmingham’s metro’s population is a bit over 1.1 million—Atlanta’s is almost 6 million.
I write with a certain amount of jealousy about Atlanta’s success from time to time and I’m always criticized by folks who wonder why I’m trying to compare two very dissimilar cities–but most of these people didn’t grow up at a time when Birmingham and Atlanta were true competitors.
I’m actually glad Birmingham didn’t turn out to be Atlanta and most of my friends would agree. However, many of us have children and grandchildren who live in Atlanta.
So it appears that Atlanta has outpaced Birmingham in almost every arena.
But there is an exception.
The Birmingham company that ate Atlanta
If I were to ask you to name a single iconic company with a deep history associated with Atlanta, one company would likely come to mind—Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola began in 1886 when an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John S. Pemberton, invented a distinctive tasting soft drink that could be sold at soda fountains.
I found it quite shocking last year when Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED acquired the bottling rights for the Atlanta market along with the Athens, Dublin, Gainesville, Jasper, Lawrenceville, Macon and Rome markets in Atlanta’s backyard.
This is one time a Birmingham company has been the acquirer and not the acquiree.
Then, shortly after, Coca-Cola Bottling UNITED took over a production facility in Mobile as well as several sales and distribution territories along the Gulf Coast culminating a four-year acquisition campaign that included 40 facilities and market territories that incorporated “more than 7,000 new associates and about 100,000 customers.”
According to the Birmingham Business Journal’s list of largest private companies, Birmingham Coca-Cola UNITED is ranked 4th with 2017 revenues of $2.3 billion and 860 local employees.
Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED is now the second largest privately held Coca-Cola bottler in North America and the third largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the United States–and it’s headquartered right here in Birmingham.
Celebrate our victories
We in Birmingham often don’t take the time to appreciate and celebrate our many victories.
We often bemoan the loss of our public companies—(we just lost Energen to Midland Texas)–but many large private companies are headquartered here—the nine largest have sales exceeding $1 billion each.
And Coca-Cola UNITED is not alone in playing a major business role in Atlanta.
And in July, B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham was selected to be the general contractor for a $150 million mixed-use project on Atlanta’s Westside called 8 West.
Our Birmingham companies are good citizens and enrich our community.
Birmingham may not be in the same league as Atlanta.
But we have a great quality of life and a real sense of community. And, heck, we can visit that big city any time we like.
Birmingham is ‘the real thing.’
Let’s turn Birmingham around. Click here to sign up for our newsletter. There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)
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