April 3, 2019 could be the biggest day in Birmingham history.
This is not an exaggeration.
Our region has historically been plagued with distrust and dysfunction.
But on April 3rd, 22 bold and visionary mayors* did the unexpected.
They signed a document agreeing not to steal from one another.
Jefferson County on life support
Mayor Stuart Welch of Mountain Brook recently sent me a snapshot of a graph that looks eerily like the flat line of a dying patient. (photo above)
It depressingly shows zero Jefferson County population growth since 1970.
How’s it possible that the largest county in the state of Alabama located in the middle of the Sunbelt could have no population growth for almost 50 years?
The mayors’ unprecedented document signing will jolt Jefferson County back to life.
7 Reasons why the signing of this document is history making
- Birmingham can now compete as a region
A 2016 comprehensive report sponsored by the Community Foundation of Birmingham clearly shows that cities that partner as a region are far more successful that cities that go it alone.
Booming metros like Charlotte, Nashville, and Austin brag that they compete with cities in China, India, and Europe.
Locally, we suspiciously view our next door city as the villain. A big win for one of our local municipalities would be for Gardendale to beat out Fultondale for a Subway– not the kind that runs underground.
Working as a region, we can now pursue big employers that have the potential to add large numbers of high paying jobs–not just more sandwiches.
- No more extortion
We have wasted in excess of $200 million over the past 20 years paying businesses extortion to prevent them from moving across town or to stay put.
As Roy Johnson wrote in al.com, “The signing mayors agreed to stop the petty practice of stealing businesses from each other by dangling enticing incentives like tax breaks and land near-giveaways. In the past, companies looking to move within the region played one eager, tax-money hungry municipality against another…”
“Officials in the winning city high-fived and popped champagne, but, in truth, the practice was akin to moving from one bedroom to another—in the same house.”
Now we can invest our next $200 million dollars in education, fighting crime, or recruiting out of state businesses.
- This historic document builds trust
Up until now it’s been impossible for our mayors to trust one another. How can you trust your neighbor when he will likely stab you in the back by stealing your businesses and their tax revenue?
- A powerful mindset change
Before 2010 most people believed that Birmingham would continue to fail at everything. Then Railroad Park was developed and midtown and downtown were transformed. Since 2010, we’ve had one nationally recognized success after another.
Up until now, most people believed that our cities would continue to bicker and certainly wouldn’t agree to work together.
The “Good Neighbor Pledge” totally changes this paradigm just like Railroad Park transformed our belief that Birmingham was doomed to failure.
- Opportunities to collaborate
The mayors are already discussing new ideas—like improving our fractured 911 call system or collectively approaching Alabama Department of Transportation to improve the lighting on our highways.
Think of the number of competing garbage trucks driving through our neighborhoods. We could save tens of millions of dollars.
6. Working towards the same goal
The city of Birmingham has developed an economic plan for Birmingham—Mountain Brook for Mountain Brook; Vestavia Hills for Vestavia Hills, etc.
Now we have the opportunity to develop a comprehensive economic plan for our region.
If an out-of-state business contacts Homewood about locating there, but Homewood cannot accommodate it, then Homewood could notify other Jefferson County cities and they could all work together on recruiting the company to Jefferson County.
7. Opportunity to expand the collaboration
There are 13 Jefferson County mayors who have not signed the pledge.
I’m confident that over time because of peer pressure and possible incentives and penalties that other mayors will one day sign the document.
And then there’s the opportunity to one day expand to Shelby and other adjacent counties.
Keep our cities– but compete as a region
With our mayors working together, we now have the opportunity to continue to live in our favorite city but have the powerhouse strength to compete as a region.
Thank Mayor Welch of Mountain Brook for leading this process.
Thank your 22 bold and visionary mayors*.
Thank your Jefferson County Commissioners for supporting these efforts.
And lastly, if your mayor didn’t sign, implore him/her to be a part of a history making revolution for greater Birmingham.
- Center Point
- Mountain Brook
- Pleasant Grove
- Sylvan Springs
- Vestavia Hills
- West Jefferson
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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 how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org