ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a more prosperous Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Jay Dunn. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
The coincidence is pretty remarkable.
I started at Georgetown for my MBA during my last year working for Senator Richard Shelby on the Senate Banking Committee in Congress. As an Evening Student, putting in a long day at work and a three-hour class at night, you tend to bond pretty well with your classmates; fatigue helps melt away the awkward “new kid” phase, and you get to know people pretty quickly.
After the Senator left the Chairmanship of the Committee, I took the opportunity to put my focus squarely on the next chapter of my career.
As a full-time student, I was fortunate enough to get to know a number of folks across both the first and second year classes of 2018 and 2019.
Georgetown’s MBA program is home to approximately 1,000 MBAs, mostly between the ages of 23 and 28. Being a part of the Georgetown and Washington, DC communities, future alumni have a unique opportunity go anywhere in the world upon graduation.
It also provides for a diverse student body that only an MBA program built into the heart of DC can offer – I have classmates from across the United States: California, New York, Texas. Not to mention friends in my program from all over the world – Beijing, London, UAE, Mexico, Panama, and Ethiopia; truly a global program.
But here’s where the coincidence comes in: throughout my time at Georgetown, I’ve had the fortune to get to know so many smart, driven, talented people who are without a doubt the future of the business community for my generation.
However, over my two plus years I have only found two other people whose ambition is to head back home and change their hometowns and states for the better – and all three of us are from Alabama, planning to come back to Birmingham to be a part of this revolution that has begun to change this town we call home.
Why is that? Why is it that of all the students that flow through the international melting pot of Georgetown each year, three guys from Alabama are the ones who are making the choice to head home? Maybe the best way to figure out this coincidence is to give a flavor of why I want to be a part of this revolution.
There are a number of reasons to be fond of Birmingham – I grew up here, attended high school and college here, and I have friends and family here. But the drive is more than the lure of the familiar.
Birmingham still carries the stigma of its Civil Rights history, despite making leaps and bounds of progress. We have an Ivy League-quality medical school in UAB, the largest employer in the state and constantly breaking boundaries in research and healthcare, and yet a nascent private equity community who more often looks outside the state for opportunities rather than within.
Across the country, Birmingham still is seen as the big city in Redneck Alabama, despite boasting one of the best restaurant scenes, across the Southeast and arguably the nation, home to the reigning James Beard Award winner.
It’s a raw deal, the wrong perception, built likely on the shadows of neighboring cities like Nashville and Atlanta who grow without the challenging reputation to hold them back. It’s built on having to fight the perception that we’re just a steel town despite strengths in healthcare, financial services, and a burgeoning start-up culture.
News-catching moments like Shipt’s sale to Target catch headlines, and certainly do wonders for the city. However, Innovation Depot, Alabama Futures Fund and investors across town are helping spur investment in a city which long ago lost sight of steel as the major economic driver, and yet don’t turn heads like they should.
These reasons and tenfold more have attracted three recent and soon-to-be Georgetown MBA grads to come back energized to keep the progress moving. We want to see a city which is renowned for what it offers, not held back by scars of decades past. That is what attracted us.
Considering all that, what are the odds?
Jay Dunn is a soon-to-be Georgetown MBA graduate, returning to Birmingham after seven long years in Washington, DC. He worked for Senator Shelby as a financial services policy advisor both in his personal office and on the Senate Banking Committee before Georgetown. He will start with Regions’ M&A Group later this year.
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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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