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 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.
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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