Birmingham surprised me!

Jeff Barrett
Jeff Barrett

Editor’s note: On January 17th, Jeff Barrett, a highly respected business writer, wrote a piece for Entrepreneur saying Birmingham, Alabama was the most interesting place he visited in 2019. He’s not done bragging on Birmingham…

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When you spend two years traveling to 50+ cities, 40+ states for Inc and Entrepreneur you gain a very unique perspective about the country. There isn’t a bad trip; everyone is putting their best foot forward.

Still, Birmingham has surprised me. This isn’t another article. This is a thank you letter to Birmingham.

What I learned quickly in this process is I’m not the expert. I’m not going to learn in three days, what you have learned over a lifetime. There are plenty of things I’m going to miss. There are plenty of places and people I’m going to want to write about more and not be able.

But after writing about Birmingham, I’m still getting kind emails and tweets. I’m being tagged in articles. And that’s not just rare, that’s a first. It speaks to how much everyone in B’ham cares about their city, its growth and the collective we. Hearing an outsider confirm what you already know is and should be a rallying point.

When I said Birmingham doesn’t have an ego, it wasn’t lip service. I felt it. And I’m feeling it now.

58% of Americans never live outside the state where they were born. As someone who has lived in Michigan most of my life, minus a brief stint in California, I started this tour with one simple thought in mind: Does a better place exist?

As it turns out, yes. More than one. What I learned most is exactly what I’m looking for in a future destination. It has very little to do with the craft beer scene, cost of living or most amenities. To be honest, those are pretty standard across the country minus a few aesthetics. Mountains and oceans can’t be replicated but everything else can.

It’s the thing you can’t put in a brochure that matters most, a sense of belonging.

If I go to New York, LA or Chicago, it’s great for my business but I’m a number. I could say the same for a lot of mid-sized cities too but I won’t name them. I would like to be invited back.

What I have been looking for is a community that will welcome me, view me an as an asset, let me roll up my sleeves and fight with them to create the attention they deserve. I’m a unique case. But that sense of belonging is universal. And that’s your greatest asset, Birmingham. Double down on that because it’s more rare than you think. You have an opening.

You don’t need to be Nashville or Atlanta or Denver. You can own a very specific lane.

Every city has a startup culture, an economic development arm, a plan to support small businesses and investors. Very few connect all those dots. There are a lot of smart founders across this country hitting roadblocks. They are getting lost in bigger cities, they are not getting the right introductions.

The cities that welcome all and do everything they can to help people find success will win the 2020’s. And it won’t be easy. Hundreds of years of economic history tell us there will be a recession this decade. There will be plenty of ambitious cities that will give up or hit pause when that time comes. Because it’s easy to aspire for greater when times are good but it’s exponentially harder when your entire economy is being challenged.

But you’re Birmingham. You know adversity. You came out of the last recession better than before. You can and will do it again.

I’m a believer. You have me convinced and I’m Go Blue, not War Eagle or Roll Tide. I wouldn’t think twice about moving to Birmingham, if the right opportunity presented itself. And more people when they see you, get to know you, get to feel what I felt, will feel the same.

I’m swiping right on Birmingham.

Jeff Barrett is a Shorty Award-winning content creator, one of Forbes’s Top 50 in Social Media and in 2020 was named one of America’s Top 10 Most Influential Consultants. He works with Adobe, Oracle, Instructure and more on communications strategy and is on the board of DoSomething, a non-profit dedicated to the civic engagement of young people.

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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 for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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3 thoughts on “Birmingham surprised me!”

  1. His post is just exactly what we like to read, and just exactly what a special city should be like. I completely agree with his view that we do not have to think about being like any other city. This is wonderful!

    It brings to mind that I hope to write about how little known Birmingham is to the rest of the world, and that what some people think they know is wrong. How do we make it better known to more poeple in more of the world? That to be in a good and positive way, not negative, as it has been presented too much in the past.

    1. I was born and raised in Alabama. I lived on the western side of town. Graduated from Jones Valley High School in Birmingham, University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Samford University, in Birmingham and Birmingham School of Law. I am a member of the Alabama Bar, Certified in Healthcare Compliance and a certified mediator. I am an African American (AA). I no longer reside in Birmingham but visit often.

      Growing up in the 60s and 70s in Birmingham my parents taught me education was the key to growth and equality. They were optimistic. I knew I had to work hard and harder. I ignorantly thought my education would afford me mentorship and promotion. I learned after undergrad that a white counterpart who majored in becoming a landscaper (horticulture) would advance in corporate America and surpass me just because of their whiteness. I learned white privilege was real and my professional and financial growth were 100% up to me. I would say that I am now in my career and status where he was 20 yrs ago… so statistically I am still lagging… I pray young AA can enjoy and experience what the young white writer does. That corporate America mentors, values and gives AAs a chance to organically thrive and growth…

      So reading this article was just a reminder of the distinct differences in how a young white male feels Birmingham is so special in such a positive way and when I visit I still see and feel Birmingham and its metro cities as black and white. I wish I felt the writer’s feelings about Birmingham.

  2. This piece is positive and refreshing. Thank you for your insight into a city that so many of us take for granted. Are there issues? Of course. Will we improve? Absolutely! Your perspective is important and valuable to growth.

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