Today’s guest columnist is Brian McCoy.
Why did I leave Birmingham?
I was a dusty teen in the former coal mining camp, Docena, Alabama playing outside in the mud just 22 years ago.
After serving as a community activist in Birmingham and graduating from UAB in 2006, I had to focus on my career.
I attempted to secure an internship and entry level position in radio and television in the city unsuccessfully, so I grabbed my $200 worth of valuables and jet (in my PT Cruiser) for Houston, TX.
Soon as I arrived, my car broke down but within a week I was given a position at PBS working on the production team of a documentary, which earned an Emmy Award.
Within five years, I was a part of the production teams for the Houston CBS affiliate’s morning show, America’s Got Talent and American Idol, won a fellowship with United Way, hosted my own television special and quickly became respected in the local entertainment industry for starting a music blog. I also served as a leader for a young adult music ministry at a large congregation and graduated from Texas Southern University where I met lifelong friends.
Fast-forward ten years, I’m now in Washington, DC, leading digital strategy in aviation and previously led the digital program for the National Office of the NAACP. These opportunities were why I left Birmingham. Based on my experience, I believe that the city’s success with recruiting millennials is closely tied to good jobs and culture.
Good Job Opportunities
Good jobs are promised often from politician wanna-bees and bees, but what they usually are pointing towards are hourly jobs that offer little upward mobility, promotion opportunities, 401-K, or six-figure salary range. You see it often, a community leader stands in front of a grocery store then says, “This will bring 150 jobs to our community.”
What kind of jobs are being recruited and touted?
Even before the construction of Protective Stadium, there were talking points presented about how many jobs it would bring. Stadium jobs like this listing are often hourly roles that cannot sustain a family long-term or flourishing lifestyle. Our focus on creating these jobs teeters the community upon poverty, which leads to hopelessness and is a contributing factor to crime.
There are many people that I probably would have slapped in the past if I did not have something to lose, so I don’t judge those who make bad choices, but wonder what could have prevented the choice. A good job. Today, I wouldn’t be employed if I had a violent arrest or even worse, I would have lost my grants for college if I were convicted of a drug charge. I avoid those situations at all costs.
Former mayor Richard Arrington mirrored what Atlanta’s Mayor Andrew Young did to uplift wages by opening city contracts to the community, leading to the Magic City being named one of America’s 10 best places to live by Newsweek and one of the most livable cities in 1989.
Mayor Woodfin has made a right step by investing in education with the Birmingham Promise, but in a state with less corporate competition than usual, and industry induced environmental pollution, more private investments are needed.
It seems as if there’s an identity decision to make, between the city being promoted as a historic destination for progressive civil rights and soul or a Southern Living Magazine cover story.
Who is Birmingham?
In 2013, Washington, DC’s tourism department launched a campaign called #DCCool. It played to the fact that there were so many places to explore in the city, its arts/soulful history and current nightlife that quenched the thirst of any of today’s Instagram models.
Birmingham where the top radio stations are R&B and hip hop, is the birthplace of acapella gospel quartet sound, home to two American Idol winners, gospel music’s reigning artist of the year, the largest HBCU classic in the world, and the flashy USFL, the city’s recent tourism video makes it look like a cookie-cutter southern village. The World Games’ recent promo is on the right track.
A few final questions for leadership to answer:
- Where do people gather for entertainment if there aren’t any sports events or concerts?
- Why is there no cultural zone that resembles Beale Street, revitalizing 4th Avenue, subsidizing lease agreements for entertainment venue owners, giving them an opportunity to move their live music events to one easily-controlled destination instead of random parts of the city?
- What if media studios were created in low attended libraries where there are areas of crime, offering free music, photography, podcast recordings and live shows, like this example in Silver Spring, Maryland? Innovation is key to creating a sense of ownership and culture.
- Where would the money come from? The same place we found money to fund, Protective Stadium and sports events. Also, we seem to forget that the steel industry and mines in the Birmingham area funded many of our parents and grand parents’ neighborhood concerts, pools, lakes, social clubs, and sports teams.
- And one final question, why would someone move to Birmingham to earn $65,000/year if they could earn $110,000/year in a city with more cultural and quality of life opportunities for the same job?
Birmingham’s success with millennials is closely tied to good jobs and culture. If these are addressed, all else would come together and many of us would come home.
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).
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