When I was Board Chair of Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (now BBA), in 2005, we hired an economic development consultant.
He flew to town the night before our first meeting and stayed at the Tutwiler Hotel. While sitting at the bar that evening he engaged in conversation with one of our locals.
When the consultant explained why he was here, the man told him he was wasting his time. He said Birmingham fails at everything and no out-of-state consultant could help.
Even though the incident was disappointing, it was not particularly surprising.
Many Birminghamians at that time suffered from low community self-esteem and had given up on our future.
But then in 2010 came Railroad Park.
In 2013, we celebrated the grand opening of Regions Field.
Both projects were predicted by many to be failures.
“Who is going to bring their family to an urban park?”
“I’m not going to risk my children’s life by coming to a Baron’s baseball game.”
Not only were the cynics wrong, but these two projects kick started a rebirth that has been unstoppable.
The Rotary Trail turned one of Birmingham’s biggest eye sores into a welcoming linear park; Bayer Properties transformed the abandoned Pizitz Department Store into modern apartments and a novel food hall; and Birmingham Landmarks renovated the dilapidated Lyric Theatre built in 1914 as a Vaudeville house into an ornate and intimate performing arts theater.
Construction was everywhere and Birmingham notched one success after another.
Then came COVID
With Birmingham’s history of stumbling when on the brink of success, it would be easy to assume that when the Pandemic hit that Birmingham’s happy days would end.
After all, Birmingham had a painfully slow recovery after the Great Recession. According to the Birmingham Business Journal, “It took until 2019 for Birmingham employment to return to its pre-recession peak – one of the slowest rates among major metros and well behind most of the region’s Southeastern peers.”
But miraculously Birmingham now appears to be coming back stronger than ever.
The Birmingham Business Journal reported “Metro Birmingham is No. 1 in a very important (economic) metric. The Magic City is tied with Salt Lake City for the lowest unemployment rate among major metro areas, according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Birmingham’s 3.5% rate is significantly better than that of many Southeastern peers, with Nashville (5.2%), Atlanta (5.4%) and Memphis (7.4%).”
According to the latest data from the Brookings Institution’s Metro Recovery Index, which tracks how the nation’s metro areas are rebounding economically from COVID 19, Birmingham was among the strongest performers.
Coming out of my cocoon
Last month I had my second vaccination and started to drive around town.
I’m amazed at what I’m seeing.
I had my first business lunch at Helen– a new upscale downtown restaurant that I didn’t know existed.
I drove over the I-59/20 bridges downtown and was amazed at how modern and fresh they look.
I saw the nearly completed Protective Stadium and the construction on the renovated Legacy Arena.
I’m looking with anticipation to the imaginative CityWalk BHAM project that will develop the land under I-59/20 into community space for sports, gathering, and play.
There are scores of major projects under way—including mixed use developments around old Carraway Hospital, the former Trinity Medical Center, and Southtown.
Amazon, FedEx, Carvana, and Lowes have major projects completed or underway.
Say goodbye to our low community self-esteem.
Say goodbye to our negative losing attitude.
This is the new dynamic Birmingham–and the story many of us never expected to tell.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. 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 for free about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org