Today’s guest columnist is Memphis Vaughan.
Recently ComebackTown published a column on the possibilities of a bullet train from Birmingham to Atlanta.
The response on social media was wildly positive.
Hundreds of commenters wanted to know why high speed rail and other visionary projects are dead on arrival in Alabama.
Whenever I travel to other places in this country and overseas, people still think of the Alabama of the 1960’s. It doesn’t help when state leaders, congressmen, and others in Alabama with national platforms are focused on voter suppression, critical race theory, who uses what bathroom, immigration and other controversial topics that are not improving the livelihoods of its citizens or making Alabama a desirable place to live or visit.
Imagine if candidates ran for political office with a vision for the future of Alabama rather than how to hold people back, our possibilities would be endless.
Why does Alabama’s state level leadership work against the best interests of the cities?
Why, according to the 2020 census is Alabama one of the slowest-growing states in the south?
Why are young people in Alabama moving to other places such as Nashville, Dallas, and Atlanta?
The answer to these questions may lie in the lack of vision at the state level. Alabama seems to always play catch-up in just about everything we do. Our state leadership is not one that many would consider forward-thinking when compared to the rest of the country. We lag the nation in so many categories our residents may feel this is just our rightful place at or near the bottom.
There is a big difference between leadership at the state level and the local level. The leadership at the local level has demonstrated that they have a vision for their communities. The mayors in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, and our other major cities are working hard to bring jobs, attractions, and tourists to their respective cities.
Even the smaller communities have leadership that focus on things that affect the day-to-day life of their citizens.
For example, something as simple as getting the state lottery and gaming initiative on the ballot has fallen short two legislative sessions in a row. Most citizens want it to happen, but our state legislature just can’t get it done. Yet, they were quick to pass controversial items that affect few people in the state.
Years ago, Mobile had the opportunity to have the casinos that are now in Biloxi and Gulfport. But it was the 1901 Alabama Constitution that places a lot of power in the hands of rural counties and requires a state-wide vote on just about every local issue that prevented it from being voted on only by those in Mobile that supported it.
State leadership may have prevented people from gambling in Alabama but go visit Biloxi and see how many Alabama car tags you see over there. Those are funds that could be improving Mobile and Alabama.
The vision I’m referring to pertains to championing things such as infrastructure, educational reform, equal justice, and initiatives that can make the quality of life in the state better than it is and change the image of Alabama.
Our leadership should have a vision that has long term benefits instead of the short-sighted efforts they undertake that hampers progress. I often wonder if they realize how much their wrong-headed efforts affect how people view Alabama even with all the hard work local leaders are doing to make the cities better and to change the negative image. Perception is often the main thing many outsiders rely on when considering Alabama. I’m sure it factors into decisions when businesses consider relocating here.
Visitors come with those skewed ideas of what Alabama represents and are pleasantly surprised when it is not as bad as they think. But too many others don’t even come.
We have the resources, the people, the natural beauty, and the history to be more competitive with other states. So, much of our young talent is moving to Texas, Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas when they could apply those talents right here in Alabama. We still have a lot of innovative and creative people here, but it seems their efforts get overshadowed by the actions of the backwards-thinking, limited-vision leaders in the state.
We need state-level leadership working in concert with the local leaders to help fully implement the vision they have for their cities that will benefit Alabama as a whole. We need leaders that will think outside of the box, be willing to take bold steps, and champion ideas that will make Alabama stand out in the nation and make our young people want to live here.
If they could do that, half the battle would be won. Then, our state will see the growth, jobs and improvements that neighboring states are experiencing.
Memphis Vaughan, Jr., is a civil engineer and native of Mobile. He is the editor of the poetry and writing website, TimBookTu.com and contributes to the Steppin’ Out newspaper. The avid traveler has visited 48 states and several countries and recognizes the great potential within the state of Alabama.
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.