I’m talking about metropolitan Birmingham—not just the city of Birmingham. Yes, all seven counties including Shelby County.
Things are looking up—but not when we are measured against other regions.
I recently received an e-mail from a friend titled, “Thought you would find this thought provoking,” with a link to a Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ) piece, “Jefferson County tops all Alabama counties in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth.”
The article sites a study by financial website SmartAsset that shows Jefferson County leads the state in GDP growth, with $1.1 billion in growth over the last four years.
This follows another recent BBJ article, “Metro Birmingham has second-highest growth in GDP in five years.” It goes on to say that our metro’s GDP grew by 1.4% from 2016 to 2017—second only to a 2.1% increase from 2014 to 2015. This sounds great until you read…“The metro now ranks 221st among other U.S. metros based on percent growth. OOPS!
Another BBJ piece, “How Birmingham’s banking market stacks up,” compares our banking deposits to other cities.
It points out that local bank deposits in Nashville grew from $57 billion to $61 billion from 2017 to 2018. However, Birmingham which has always been a banking mecca, the deposit base actually dropped from $37.8 billion in 2017 to $37.7 billion in 2018. With 10 years of national economic expansion, I don’t know how we could actually lose $100 million in bank deposits.
According to al.com, “Cutbacks at two major banks, the exit of a utility company from the Magic City, and stagnant job growth in the area are expected to create more than 1.1 million square feet of empty office space in downtown Birmingham by the end of next year.”
“About 200,000 square feet of space was vacated by Regions in the Regions-Harbert Plaza. They moved into renovated offices at Regions headquarters on Fifth Avenue North.”
“Wells Fargo is cutting about 100,000 square feet of space in downtown next year, brokers said.”
“Energen will vacate its 130,000-square-foot headquarters in the downtown core after its acquisition by Texas-based Diamondback Energy is finalized.”
Though it won’t affect downtown, it was just announced that National Commerce Corp, one of our few remaining public companies, was sold to a Florida banking company this week.
So why aren’t we growing like everyone else?
The City of Birmingham recently announced The Woodfin Way–a “strategic plan for progress in Birmingham.”
I think it’s absolutely great that Mayor Woodfin and the City of Birmingham developed a strategic plan, but Birmingham only represents less than 1/3 of the population of Jefferson County and less than 20% of our metro area.
Coincidentally, at the same time, Hoover unveiled its master plan for the future.
It’s amazingly we have the two largest municipalities in Jefferson County release their master plans at the same time and neither take the other into consideration.
Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills—all our larger cities in Jefferson County have done extensive planning—but it’s only for their own municipalities.
We compete with ourselves
Our Regional Chamber of Commerce (now the BBA) used to take trips to other cities to learn best practices.
When we visited cities like Charlotte or Nashville, they always told us that they were competing with cities in Asia or Europe.
When we came back to Birmingham we found our cities competing with one another.
A master plan for our region
How can we accomplish our goals as a region when we don’t have regional goals—and certainly no road map to get there?
Our politicians are beginning to talk with one another, but we need to encourage our Jefferson County Commissioners to work with our Mayors and our business leaders to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for our region.
- 221st in GDP growth
- $100 million drop in lost bank deposits
- 1.1 million square feet of empty office space
We desperately need a coordinated regional plan.
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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