Gardendale, Irondale, & Fultondale: The devil made us do it!

The devil
Drawing by Adam Stermer

The national media continue to beat us up–First The New York Times and now The Wall Street Journal.

In December of last year, The New York Times wrote a piece subtitled, “Nashville and others are thriving…while cities like Birmingham, Ala., fall behind.”

And two weeks ago the Wall Street Journal repeated segments of the story.

“The population of the Nashville area has roughly doubled, and young people have flocked there, drawn by high-paying jobs…Birmingham, by comparison, has steadily lost population…narrow gaps in education and income have widened…”

Mountain Brook Mayor predicts a new Birmingham

Mountain Brook Mayor Stuart Welch complains that Jefferson County is lifeless because our municipalities feel compelled to steal businesses from their neighbors. He says the size of our pie isn’t growing so each municipality must fight for its small slice.

But by signing of the “Good Neighbor Pledge,” 22 brave and visionary Jefferson County mayors accepted the premise that if we collaborate, we can bake a larger pie and our municipalities’ will get their fair share.

What about the 13 mayors who didn’t sign?

Twenty-two Jefferson County mayors signed the agreement–13 did not.  Eight of the largest cities in Jefferson County were signees—a large majority of our counties population.

More than half of the non-signing municipalities have a population of less than 5,000. (2010 census)

  • Cardiff 55
  • North Johns 145
  • Maytown 385
  • Brookside 1,363
  • Morris 1,829
  • Kimberly 2,711
  • Adamsville 4,522

What about the other six non-signing cities—Fultondale, Gardendale, Hueytown, Irondale, Leeds, and Pinson?

It’s tough being a small city in Alabama where you depend heavily on sales tax.

Irondale

Irondale is a good example–a population of 12,000 and struggling financially.

Last year Sam’s Club, Irondale’s largest revenue generator, shut down—costing Irondale $1.4 million in revenue.

Irondale quickly responded by asking their citizens to vote to increase property taxes. When that measure failed, Irondale implemented an occupational tax.

Gardendale and Fultondale

Two credible sources told me that Gardendale and Fultondale didn’t sign the Good Neighbor Pledge because they are competing for an Olive Garden.

This clearly shows how cities feel compelled to tussle over ‘small potatoes’ (I guess in this case– ‘small pasta’) just to survive.

The devil didn’t stop the non-signing cities

It’s easy to understand why some of the mayors are not comfortable signing a document that could hurt their struggling cities in the short run.

But with 50 years of no population growth in Jefferson County, we know that the status quo will eventually bring us all down.

As Ty West, the Editor in Chief at the Birmingham Business Journal, wrote last week, “Nashville… added more jobs in 2018 than Birmingham added over the past five years…(and) over the past five years, Huntsville’s job growth rate has more than doubled (Birmingham’s).

Mountain Brook Mayor Welch and others are optimistic that more mayors will eventually sign the document.

If we can’t figure out how to make this work, then we will likely be sucked back into our historic whirlwind of municipal competition, distrust, and mediocrity.

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. dsher@amsher.com

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5 thoughts on “Gardendale, Irondale, & Fultondale: The devil made us do it!”

  1. Meanwhile, no one wants to stick around for this. No 23 year old college grad says “oh that sounds like a good plan I guess I’ll forego Nashville or Atlanta and hope Birmingham trends upwards in 20 years and competes.”

    Not to mention, this is NOT the reason there’s been no growth. It’s an attempt to blame something and overshadow the fact that people just prefer to live other places or companies prefer other cities.

  2. I know some of these small cities and towns in Jefferson County are struggling financially but they should not exist anyway. They should disincorporate.

  3. david, you’re smokin’ something again! jefferson county is not lifeless because of stealing businesses from one another….it is lifeless because of crime, violence, corruption, poor education in the ham, and weak business leadership that does not seem to hold bhm accountable for not addressing its problems! wake up and tell it like it is!

    1. Ken, I don’t think most people accept the premise that folks in Jefferson County are more violent, corrupt, and less caring than other regions. Every issue you mentioned is a symptom that was primarily brought about because we have divided ourselves into 35 separate municipalities based on race, income, and education. We’ve also squandered several hundred million dollars because our governments have been extorted by businesses threatening or moving across town. Cities like Nashville, Austin, and Charlotte don’t have these problems because they work together as a region. We now have 22 mayors who have recognized our potential and are making an effort to collaborate.

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