Time to brand Birmingham for the 22nd century

Danny Markstein
Danny Markstein

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

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

Over the years – and especially recently – there has been a lot of conversation about branding Birmingham. Many other cities have engaged in processes to develop, launch and maintain their brands – with wildly varying levels of success.

Ask folks who live in Austin how positively the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign has impacted them, their businesses and their employers. When done well, residents, business entities, educational institutions and other organizations are engaged in the process and, therefore, buy into the creation and execution of the city’s brand, ultimately empowering the entire community.

But this conversation is about much more – branding Birmingham is critical to the advancement of our community. That said, there is only one way to do it properly, and to our community’s maximum benefit. The process must be just that – a process – one that is thoughtful, strategic and yields a fruitful outcome.

If we’re going to “brand” Birmingham, we must leverage our existing assets

In Birmingham, our healthcare and education institutions have led the way for decades. They must continue to do so, while making it possible for others to lead, too. Leveraging UAB and the medical community to attract and retain talent, particularly related to biotech and biomedical companies, absolutely is critical to our long-term success. We simply cannot grow without our established leading businesses’ and organizations’ influence and support.

Further positioning UAB, Samford, Birmingham Southern and Miles College as our leading local institutions is a critical step, but it isn’t possible if we cannot position Birmingham’s brand as an asset they can use to attract students, faculty and investment.

Properly resourcing our primary and high school education professionals today to prepare tomorrow’s workforce for college and/or trade schools is an absolute minimum requirement for our community.

If we’re going to “brand” Birmingham, we have to prepare our future assets

If we collectively desire to work towards building Birmingham into a city for the next century and generations to come, we must begin to work towards this reality immediately. Birmingham must have a brand that supports this reality – we must develop and position our workforce to be capable of succeeding in the jobs in which a leading city requires its people to perform.

This is one area where Birmingham currently is lacking – meaning that, without calculated effort, our brand will be an empty promise. Simply put, to be successful, we must get better at developing our workforce.

Our team recently was fortunate to work with Alabama PossibleBirmingham Business Alliance (BBA), Central Six AlabamaWorks!Community Foundation of Greater BirminghamInnovate BirminghamJefferson State Community CollegeUnited Way of Central Alabama and UAB to launch the Building (it) Together campaign.

The premise of the campaign is a report that this coalition commissioned by Burning Glass Technologies to assess the seven-county region’s workforce. The report cited our community’s heavy concentration in low-skilled occupations as a liability that, if unaddressed, will have serious repercussions for us all.

The skills gap between our current workforce and the jobs that are available in Birmingham only will continue to widen as we progress into the 22nd century. If we want our city to be the benchmark for others, we must ensure our workforce matches the brand our city develops.

In order to emerge as the progressive community we often talk about and aspire to in Birmingham, and if we are to accomplish that which we are capable of achieving, we must cultivate and retain local talent, recruit new talent to our community, impact the global market and continuously develop our children, college students and workforce for the future.

Too often we are playing catch up. Too often an excuse suffices for inaction or poor results. To be a leading city in the 22nd century, this must cease to be the case.

If we’re going to “brand” Birmingham, we must take the appropriate actions

Success will require working together to build a brand that makes a promise we want to – and are able to – deliver. We must continue to attract entrepreneurs and tech. We must continue to fund and connect the business community, the pre-K through 12th grade community, our two- and four-year colleges, and our economic development community.

Incredible work is happening within all of those areas, but too often our work is siloed and misaligned. We fail to achieve scale when we don’t work together.

That said, signs of our successes clearly are evident. The Innovation Depot, Innovate Birmingham and Velocity Accelerator are just the tips of the spear, supported by established businesses ranging from Regions and Protective, to more recent successes like Shipt. We must support and leverage our innovative economic drivers like UAB and Southern Research.

These disparate organizations engage in an increasing number of pitch competitions critical to our continued success – consider the impacts of Alabama Launchpad, Rise of the Rest and Bronze Valley, and what they are doing for our city and state.

In addition, more organizations, such as the Alabama Capital Network and the Alabama Futures Fund, need to continue to evolve, and new funds, like UAB’s recently launched Innovation Fund, need to be developed.

These organizations and the activities in which they engage are critical if we are to attract and retain top entrepreneurial talent, and to enable leadership development and mentorship for young professionals and emerging founders and business leaders.

Perhaps more challenging but equally important, we must find ways to compete for and attract larger companies to bring their operations to Birmingham. We need to prioritize the successful recruitment of investments from advanced manufacturing, information technology and life sciences companies.

Ideally, we would bring corporate headquarters and key operating entities to our community – this obviously is a huge win every time it happens – but we need to be realistic about what is possible given the necessary investment of time and resources to pursue these opportunities.

If we’re going to “brand” Birmingham, its people must participate in the process

In my opinion, an effort of this magnitude requires a leader – a convening entity or organization that brings disparate groups together in ways that are inclusive of our population of residents, communities, government structures and corporate citizens.

I believe that this process should be led by the City of Birmingham, with the broad support, backing of and participation from local and state officials, educators and the business and nonprofit communities.

With that structure and support in place, each and every resident of our community must have the opportunity for his or her voice to be heard. Birmingham is more than a few city blocks or a couple of suburbs, and all its citizens need to be represented properly.

As we love to say in our office, “People support what they help to create.” If Birmingham is to position itself as a leading city for the 22nd century, it must create that role today and commit to achieving all that it can.

The stakes are too high to fail to do this the right way. To be sure, there is much hard work to be done, but it’s time for Birmingham to begin the process properly and position itself for the many successes yet to come.

Danny Markstein is co-founder and managing director of Markstein, a Birmingham-based marketing communications agency whose mission is to provide empowering leadership and measurable creative strategies that deliver positive outcomes related to business challenges and opportunities.

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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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2 thoughts on “Time to brand Birmingham for the 22nd century”

  1. John Travolta’s got skills! Clever and innovative way to pitch the City. Bravo. You win, give this firm the contract.

    1. HAHA John Travolta. I wish people would say that about me. I agree with what he’s saying. There’s a lot of “we’ve got to” “we’ve got to” but the problem is that Birmingham has been on a backwards track as far as attracting inward migration of educated young professionals in business and corporate relocations. When long-time Birmingham companies relocated to somewhere else, it tells a very grim story and young people see that and move before they get screwed.

      I think the the last thing Birmingham needs is another slogan. It’s already called “The Magic City” but that term is so outdated and laughable if you have been following the cities trajectory over the past 20 years. I think calling it The Magic City actually does more harm than good now because people just roll their eyes and walk on by.

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