What I didn’t expect to find when I moved back to B’ham from New York

Barbara Burton
Barbara Burton

Today’s guest blogger is Barbara Burton, President of Chalker Group, a talent acquisition firm.

 If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

After 30 years in New York City, I had no idea what I would find moving back to Birmingham.

But what I found was totally unexpected.

There are generally two types of people in Birmingham—natives who grew up here and tend to take Birmingham’s remarkable quality of life for granted, and those who are new to our city and thrilled with their new home.

People in New York walk the streets with a seemingly singular sense of purpose. Shoulders squared and gazes fixed, they stride through busy, crowded sidewalks with a resolve that leaves little room for interaction.

In Birmingham, where the pace is less frantic and the spaces more open, people tend to have a wider focus, taking in more of the nuances of their surroundings.

Eye contact in public spaces – or a smile, nod or hello – is not uncommon, even with perfect strangers. Handshakes can easily morph into a friendly embrace.

After years mastering the autonomy of New Yorkers in public spaces, the more communal ways of Birmingham truly caught me by surprise.

This air of friendliness – for lack of a better descriptor – manifests a special sense of immediacy and connectedness. It’s one of the life-affirming qualities that makes our city unique.

Connections give purpose and meaning to our lives

Connection is why we humans are here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The drive to connect is in all of us, whether we acknowledge it or not.

We all want a sense of belonging – in our families, our work and our communities. Our deepest yearning is to belong, and our deepest fear is that we don’t.

This is the beating heart of strategic recruitment, prioritizing the value of relationships and using the art and power of connection to allay fears of the unknown.

The familiar is much more comfortable than the unknown. Those who are masterful at the art of connection are especially attuned to individual preferences and solicitous of the stories people tell about themselves.

They are bridge builders, always looking for cues – sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle – in the quest to find points of connection and thereby bridge the gap between the familiar and the unknown.

Birmingham as it is today – its beauty, diversity, excitement, friendliness; its wealth of cultural, educational and recreational resources; its accessibility and livability – does not have to be “sold” to newcomers.

If the economic opportunity is here, the city sells itself as long as people find points of connection and are plugged into those things most relevant to their lives.

Birmingham’s reality is different from common perceptions

What Birmingham has to offer is often not consistent with the larger world’s perception and impression of Alabama. We have to bring people here in order to change their fixed, often false beliefs. We are competing with much larger cities for a shrinking pool of top talent, so we have to be smarter, more strategic in recruiting.

Keep in mind that twenty years ago, the spouse or partner would just follow the recruit. That’s no longer the case. Our lives are more complicated and fast-paced, most couples have dual careers, and the market for skilled professionals is intensely competitive.

This is not the welcome wagon of yore. We have to move the needle by making a candidate’s – and his or her significant other’s – time in Birmingham feel more personal and connected.

CONNECTbirmingham was created expressly for that purpose. This group of over 50 local business and community leaders serves as a network for spousal recruitment and cultural connections. Just the existence of this network sends a powerful message to key recruits –Birmingham’s influencers have stepped up and are actively engaged in attracting new and diverse talent to the city.

Finding leaders for Birmingham’s tomorrow

 In a competitive global economy with an ever-widening skilled labor gap, the future of your business – and our city – could well depend on how proactively and strategically each of you rethinks the talent acquisition process.

It’s not about dressing up traditional recruiting and relocation services. It’s about reimagining a life in Birmingham, one that is tailored to unique individual needs, interests and priorities.

By making a key recruit’s experience of Birmingham more personal and connected, we can redefine what is possible in bringing the best and brightest to our city…showing them and their families how to reimagine their lives here.

Barbara Burton is the founder and President of Chalker Group, a talent acquisition firm that helps candidates and their families identify points of connection in our community. She is also the founder of CONNECTbirmingham, a business network utilized for spousal recruitment.

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 how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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One thought on “What I didn’t expect to find when I moved back to B’ham from New York”

  1. Thank you Barbara for sharing your thoughts. I think your description of our City is spot-on. We need the positive and truthful analysis of our City, given the stigma of living in Alabama! Glad you are back home.

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