Birmingham’s huge opportunity!

Miller Girvin
Miller Girvin

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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6 thoughts on “Birmingham’s huge opportunity!”

  1. I have just read the article explaining ‘Birmingham Bound’ and seeing this at almost the same time I find very important reason to be encouraged about Birmingham’s future. Essentially both are in agreement with one of my basic principles: being better is better that just being bigger. Young and energetic thinkers like these, who know enough about Birmingham to understand its opportunities, will lead our favorite city’s advancement into its brighter future. Onward and forward with will go!

  2. Having just now read about ‘Birmingham Bound’ and this immediately I find very strong hope for Birmingham’s advancement. Both appear to be in agreement with one of my strongest believed principles: Being better is better than being bigger. These imaginative, positive mission focused young and energetic people certainly will strongly enhance our favorite city’s chances for significant success in becoming a much better city.
    If they receive the encouragement and support that they well deserve, Birmingham will definitely become a great city. Onward and forward you wonderful young people. I believe there a quite a few more of you too.

  3. Every city has startups and generally a lot more of them than Birmingham. Those startups you mentioned are very small fish. Yes the buzz around town is that Birmingham is a startup mecca of sorts.

    There is one area that I see Birmingham smashing the competition when it comes to startups, and that is its catering to minority owned startups/businesses. I don’t think other cities do as good of a job of catering to them.

    But either way. Startups leave. They crank up, make the owner kinda rich, then he sells, making him super rich, then by- golly there ain’t much to do with $millions in Birmingham so they fly outta there and spend their cash elsewhere and start up another business there surrounded by their other young millionaire friends that don’t exist in Birmingham.

    1. I believe the generally what you just wrote is very true. It is unfortunate that their thinking end as they start up and fail to imagine what they could do with their millions to make Birmingham a city like none other and one they would never want to leave. There are many possibilities. They only need to be encouraged to think about that.

  4. Yeah I agree. But at the same time. I have to be honest. If/when I make millions, I’m not staying in Birmingham. I want to go somewhere with fancier dining/shopping, somewhere that I can rub elbows with other young millionaires and benefit from their proximity. That’s just me. I’m not such a die-hard bammer or barner that I fail to see the many offerings and fruits that other metros/cities have to offer.

    But here’s the thing I keep seeing and it’s bothersome! Most of the start-ups mentioned here and other places are very very small and have almost no chance of making it big. Yet they’re treated as if they’re all the next Shipt.

    1. Your choice of course, but be careful when you land in a place with people you may think you like but later you find are not so good as people. There is always the chance of good luck elsewhere too.

      You are also right that everything created in Bham will not be like Shipt, Can we be sure (I don’t know.) if young Mr. Smith ever really expected Shipt to be what it became? I am sure it is not just luck. I am certain his level of intelligence counts too I am also certain that he will not be the only one with success like that, but it is likely to be different of course.

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