Even Nick Saban can’t fix this Alabama problem

Nick Saban, Head Football Coach at the University of Alabama
Nick Saban, Head Football Coach at the University of Alabama

By David Sher

Nick Saban has had a profound impact on the University of Alabama and our State.

The hiring of Coach Saban will likely go down as one of the best hiring decisions in college sports’ history.

Who could have predicted that the University of Alabama would ultimately follow up Coach Bear Bryant, likely the greatest college football coach of his time, with another football coach who maybe the greatest college football coach of all  times?

Coach Saban led the Alabama Crimson Tide to BCS and AP national championships in 2009, 2011, 2012, and College Football Playoff championships in 2015, 2017 and 2020. He has won seven national titles as a head coach, the most in college football history.

People all over the U.S., whether they are football fans or not, know the name ‘Saban’ and associate him with the University of Alabama and the State of Alabama.

His impact on the University of Alabama’s student count has been profound.

In 2006, the enrollment at U of A was 23,878. The university now has 38,320 students—an increase of more than 60% with 58% of its undergraduates coming from out of state.

You would think that many of these young men and women would enjoy their experience in Alabama and want to build their career’s here.

However, our state  loses 80% of these U of A graduates.

By the way, 41% of Auburn’s undergraduates come from out of state and the State of Alabama loses more than 80% of them also.

And most people probably aren’t aware that 73% of Samford University in Birmingham undergraduates come from out of state. According to a recent analysis, between 2011-2021, only 18% of all their students whose home states were outside of Alabama decided to remain in Alabama employed or in graduate school after graduation.

Earlier in the year I attended a talk by Greg Barker, President of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). The EDPA is a private, non-profit organization committed to the economic growth of Alabama.

During the question and answer portion of his talk an audience member asked, “What is the biggest impediment to the State of Alabama from an economic development standpoint?”

Barker responded, “The biggest challenge far and away is labor. Whatever is second is a long way from that. But labor is the biggest issue–labor of all kinds. Predominantly having well-prepared labor force here in Alabama is a challenge.”

Well, there you have it.

A shortage of well-prepared labor is by far Alabama’s biggest economic development problem and our colleges and universities bring these students to our state and then prepare them to build their careers outside the state.

Coach Saban is certainly doing his part by creating the best college recruitment program in America.

But he’s not responsible for keeping our young folks here.

That is our responsibility.

Nick Saban wins recruits and national championships through his emphasis on ‘the process.’

We must develop a coordinated strategic process to retain our well trained talent to avoid losing them to our competition.

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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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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17 thoughts on “Even Nick Saban can’t fix this Alabama problem”

  1. Good analogy, David. But my answer would be : JOBS!!
    If we had more jobs, more of our talented young men and women would stay and attract others. So, our PROCESS starts with RECRUITING NEW BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY that will offer more jobs. If training is required, we should partner with our community colleges! Our pay scale must be competitive! I do think Coach Saban has provided us a winning BUSINESS PLAN …will we buy-in?

  2. Good Article it’s probably Jobs an pay Huntsville has some attractive opportunities in Tech ,Car industry booming here Mobile planes an Ships we need infrastructure High speed trains To Atl,an Dallas an Huntsville we need to grow our largest Metro

  3. Two questions come to mind after reading this article. First, why are out-of-state students coming to UAT, as well as the other colleges and universities in Alabama? Second, why do these so many of these same students leave upon graduation?
    As for the first question, many are coming to UAT because of Saban, but that is not the answer for the other institutions. So, it must be they believe they will receive a quality education at a fairly reasonable cost, plus a return on that investment. For the second question, no doubt part of the reason these graduates leave the state of Alabama is due to the lack of good jobs and/or decent pay for said jobs. But another reason is the political environment which is putting restrictions on one’s personal freedom. To what degree this is causing graduates to leave cannot be determined without knowing which states these graduates came from, as well as which ones they are leaving for. Knowing this information would go a long way in formulating a solution.

  4. It’s not just jobs, but the right types of jobs and the availability of non-college labor. If a manufacturing plant employs 20% college graduates and 80% non-college graduates, then for each college graduate you employ, you have to find four people without college degrees. With a 2.6% unemployment rate, that’s not easy to do.

  5. Some comparative data would be useful for both similar and very different states. For example, Georgia and Massachusetts.

  6. But isn’t that the problem all along? Alabamians demand excellence in football don’t demand excellence in much of anything else. For example, what if we demanded to be number one in infant survival and in literacy.

    The Florida Gators had a lackluster football season with a 6-7 record. In fact no team from the state of Florida finished in the AP Too 25. But I am sure there is a proud Floridian somewhere saying “The state of Florida is not so bad that we need football to feel good about ourselves.”

  7. I went to Samford and most of my colleagues were from Nashville and Atlanta. They seemed to always complain about what Birmingham DIDN’T have or offer. Whether it was the latest cool restaurant trend, shopping trend, or sports/concert/entertainment venue. We seemed to always be hopping in the car to drive to Atlanta or Nashville for a concert that was skipping Birmingham and would “go out” to places that were dripping in swag and cool vibes unlike what we found in Birmingham. That was the first time I really ever thought of my city as “lesser than”. Then upon graduation, I began to notice the lack of job opportunities in the business world compared to my friends who moved back home and were knocking homeruns in their career while I was struggling to find my “next good step”.

    All in all, I feel I cheated myself because I stayed “home” and didn’t pursue more avenues in my career. I should have moved immediately upon graduating. Many learned that lesson earlier than I did and made the right moves and they’re farther along than me.

    I have a plan – hear me out 🙂 Skyrocket the cost of out of state tuition. I want to see more native Alabamians attending our colleges. Natives are far more likely to stay! It’s getting harder and harder to get into these schools because the out of state interest is so high. So it ends up screwing Alabamians. We’re pumping all our talent into Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, etc. People from there generally ain’t staying in Bama.

    Plus, those are the people whispering into our kids ears “this place sucks, cool people live where I live in Cool City, TX, you’ve so got to move Suzy, you can’t stay here.”

    Not to mention, MOST of these people from out of state are white. They come to Bham and are inundated with Civil Rights and that’s about all the city advertises for itself.

  8. I went to Samford and most of my colleagues were from Nashville and Atlanta. They seemed to always complain about what Birmingham DIDN’T have or offer. Whether it was the latest cool restaurant trend, shopping trend, or sports/concert/entertainment venue. We seemed to always be hopping in the car to drive to Atlanta or Nashville for a concert that was skipping Birmingham and would “go out” to places that were dripping in swag and cool vibes unlike what we found in Birmingham. That was the first time I really ever thought of my city as “lesser than”. Then upon graduation, I began to notice the lack of job opportunities in the business world compared to my friends who moved back home and were knocking homeruns in their career while I was struggling to find my “next good step”.

    All in all, I feel I cheated myself because I stayed “home” and didn’t pursue more avenues in my career. I should have moved immediately upon graduating. Many learned that lesson earlier than I did and made the right moves and they’re farther along than me.

    I have a plan – hear me out 🙂 Skyrocket the cost of out of state tuition. I want to see more native Alabamians attending our colleges. Natives are far more likely to stay! It’s getting harder and harder to get into these schools because the out of state interest is so high. So it ends up screwing Alabamians. We’re pumping all our talent into Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, etc. People from there generally ain’t staying in Bama.

    Plus, those are the people whispering into our kids ears “this place sucks, cool people live where I live in Cool City, TX, you’ve so got to move Suzy, you can’t stay here.”

  9. Many of my friends’ children went to Alabama or Auburn and took jobs out of state after graduation. All but one of them are back in Alabama. They realize that this state is a really good place with good people.

  10. I was raised and educated in Alabama but I am planning to leave because I am embarrassed to live in a state that seems to pride itself on being at or near the bottom of every quality of life category. We, along with Mississippi, are the laughing stocks of the US. The political climate here is never going to change which means the things that are important to people like me will never be offered here. Currently, I am considering cities in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina as relocation possibilities.

    1. Your statement is so true, Alabama is a laughing stock.
      l’ve lived in several states, yes Alabama is known for it’s backwardness. Twenty years later as l returned, Alabama is still true to it’s name. it’s in the bloodline.

  11. Why aren’t businesses moving to Birmingham? Well, suppose you were starting a new business, and Birmingham was on your list of cities to move to. And upon further investigation, Birmingham would immediately be crossed out.

    Why? Because Birmingham has a transit system that only operates 6 days a week, and that doesn’t include the 9-10 national holidays that the transit system is closed as well.

    Why? Well, look no further than the Alabama Department of Transportation, or ALDOT. All it cares about it cares about is roads and bridges. Economic development? Forget it. School improvement. Forget it. Attracting new businesses? Forget it.

    All ALDOT cares about is the road builders, and nothing else. So if you’re satisfied with the current status quo, then stay silent. If not, then raise your voices and demand something better.

  12. Richard, I agree that transportation is A piece in THE puzzle perhaps but businesses are moving to Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee and none of them have “good” public transportation systems. For instance, Las Colinas (Dallas corporate HQ hub) just landed Caterpillar HQ and a myriad of other HQs. Yes there’s a train stop there, but I’d say 99% of Las Colina’s employees drive or live in apts close by.

    Marta is certainly nothing to move to ATL for. Nashville’s public transit is marginally better than Bham’s I’d say. Houston’s is maybe a little better than Marta?

    The point is, companies seem to not really care about quality public transportation. They care far more about:

    -Business friendly political/tax environment
    -Personal friendly political/tax environment
    -Personnel talent pool
    -Access to synergistic relationships of other companies

  13. Clever title and a thought provoking issue. Do we want our colleges to draw kids from out of state or focus on in state students? Out of state tuition is higher so the economics may be good. Even though the percentage who stay may be less than ideal, the net result is several thousand well educated young people from other states staying in the state each year. An option adopted by UNC Chapel Hill is to limit out of state students to some percent of the entering class. It was 18% some years ago which made getting in hard for out if state applicants so they tended to have really bright out of state students.

  14. Good points, David, and from many responses. I have lived here most of my life, but my idea of a great place to live is a state that is more progressive, takes better care of the less fortunate and our environment. Mayor Woodfin is a good start. I can hope for others and vote accordingly. It is truly a shame.

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