ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a more prosperous Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is Miller Girvin. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
The days of the Birmingham region recruiting big public companies are probably over.
However, many forward-thinking individuals and groups are working on a plan that will drive the economy of Birmingham and Alabama through the rest of the century.
I was born and raised in Birmingham, and, after spending my first seven working years in Washington, DC, made the decision to drag my Yankee husband home with me in 2011.
I immediately saw changes in the city that I called home, but I also have seen more change in the last eight years than the previous 30 combined. Those changes include a trend towards downtown living and dining after 5 pm, a literal loosening of ties in the corporate dress codes and a boom of technology companies.
While reading some news outlets makes me terrified to hear what my friends outside of our state think of Alabama, I know the truth. Yes, admittedly, we have lots of problems….big problems. But I see beyond what people may read or think about Alabama and about Birmingham.
I see the growth in a sector that, fifteen years ago, was barely a blip on the radar of Alabama business. A sector which, if it continues to grow and thrive, can start to reverse many of the issues we face today.
I run an organization called the Alabama Capital Network (ACN), which helps organize local investors and businesses to provide information about and connections to promising startup companies across our state. Our members are fantastic, dedicated to helping the best Alabama startups have access to the capital, mentors and customers that they need to be successful in our state.
Roughly two and a half years ago, one of the five founders of ACN called me out of the blue, asking if I might be interested in running this yet-to-be-started organization to help Alabama startup companies. My initial response was circumspect; I was working for a communications and public policy firm, had done stints in Washington as a (gasp!) lobbyist, but had no experience in the financial sector or with startups.
And I said as much to this founder, whose response was one of ultimate faith in me. Long story much shorter, fast forward a couple years and several investment books later, while I’m certainly still no investment expert, I have learned enough to have the highest respect for our state’s entrepreneurs and the potential they hold for our future.
Brad Feld, a successful venture capitalist and the founder of Techstars, often references the stat that the number of net new jobs in this country over the past decade corresponds to the number of startup jobs created over the same time period. Simply put, without startup jobs, the United States would have had no job growth!
Birmingham has a huge opportunity. In the past several years, the innovation sector, with help from local investor support, local business customers, and workforce development efforts, has started to emerge as the driving force behind Birmingham’s economy. Key partnerships with Apple, Brookings and Burning Glass have driven our community leaders on the need for inclusive and focused growth, which has a natural fit in the meritocracy of the innovation sector.
The story of Birmingham can now be the story of startups like Fleetio, O3 Solutions, Pack Health, and Theranest, diverse companies that have grown from ideas to employing 100’s of people collectively. Now we have big exits like Shipt’s sale to Target. These companies do not only create quality jobs – they inspire their employees to pursue their own ideas and can even offer them the funds to do so.
Investors see the impact that investing in innovative ideas can have on our community, creating a shift from hedging risk to making bets on the future of Birmingham.
That is the virtuous cycle of creating a thriving startup ecosystem and that is the process that will continue to drive growth and create prosperity throughout our Magic City.
Miller Beale Girvin, born and raised in Birmingham, is the CEO of the Alabama Capital Network (ACN), a group of businesses and individuals supporting the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in our state. Miller and her husband, Josh, are the proud parents of two daughters, Hamilton, age 5 and Bibb, age 4.
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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).
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