By David Sher
Ever wonder what it would be like to have a goose that laid golden eggs?
You would feed that magic bird to get more and more golden eggs.
Currently, our Birmingham region is struggling to set a direction for our economic future.
We try to attract the headquarters of public companies as we did when we tried to lure Amazon to build its second headquarters here a few years ago. We didn’t make Amazon’s short list and quite frankly I don’t think we will make anyone’s short list any time soon.
Forty years ago we had thirty public companies headquartered in Birmingham. Now we have eight. Mercedes Benz shocked the world when it built an automobile plant 50 miles down the road, yet when it was time to select a location for its U.S. headquarters, Mercedes chose Atlanta.
We diligently try to attract young entrepreneurs to grow their start-ups here. But if their business is successful, the company will likely be acquired by an out-of-state company causing us to lose the business or be managed remotely. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, but this is risky business.
It would make sense for us to put most of our economic development dollars into a local entity that is a sure bet–an entity that is
- Growing like crazy
- Will never be acquired
- Will never move away
That sure bet is UAB.
Yes, UAB is our golden goose.
UAB recently announced the planned construction of a $105 million Biomedical Research and Psychology Building.
UAB makes big economic announcements regularly, and yet, people yawn and then we run off to chase some unattainable economic development project.
When I was Chairman of the Greater Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, a group of about 100 business leaders and elected officials visited Charlotte to learn why Charlotte was so successful.
Our first speaker was the mayor of Charlotte.
He began his talk with words that still ring in my ear, “We don’t have anything like UAB, but…”
Wow! The mayor of Charlotte was jealous of our UAB.
In 2014, I asked ComebackTown readers to visualize Birmingham without UAB. To mentally subtract 86 square blocks of facilities, the 23,000 employees it supported, the 18,000 students it was educating, the essential health care it delivered and the hundreds of businesses that relied on its patronage.
That was almost nine years ago.
Look at what has happened since.
The campus footprint now exceeds 100 square blocks after about $500 million in new construction and renovations to expand the education, research, clinical and residential facilities that support the arts, sciences and health care.
Even with the pandemic, more than 3,000 employees have been added and 3,000 more students are enrolled in its undergraduate, graduate and professional schools.
As of 2016, UAB’s statewide economic impact had grown more than $2 billion to top $7 billion, and a new economic impact study now underway is likely to leave $7 billion in the dust.
Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Watts delivered his annual State of the University address to report on the progress — which is quite remarkable.
For instance, UAB’s research funding topped $715 million this past year. For perspective, that is a 50% increase during the past five years. In its Best Global Universities edition, US News and World Report listed UAB among the top 8% of universities globally.
UAB turns ideas, research and scholarship into patents. Licensing companies is the way UAB spurs economic development, drawing entrepreneurs and highly skilled workers to our community.
In his address, Dr. Watts noted that UAB is becoming the leader in commercializing biotechnology in the Southeast. The Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which UAB established to commercialize innovative technologies, now ranks among the top 20% nationally. In the past year alone, it generated an additional $5.6 million in revenues, approved nine start-up companies and has three in the pipeline.
UAB means everything to me personally. As I’ve mentioned in earlier columns, my wife is a breast cancer survivor and I’m convinced she would not be alive today without UAB.
UAB keeps us healthy and saves lives, educates our children, teaches our doctors, spins out new companies, secures hundreds of millions of dollars for research, is training the next generation of innovators, and is putting Birmingham on the map as a biotech hub.
UAB is our magic goose.
Let’s feed the bird that lays those golden eggs.
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 for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. email@example.com.