The missing secret sauce for Birmingham’s future

Jacob Rogers
Jacob Rogers

Today’s guest columnist is Jacob Rogers.

Born and raised in the Birmingham metro area, I attended elementary school in Midfield, middle school in Warrior, and high school in Blount County.

After graduating from Samford University in 2009, it took me several months to find an entry-level position.

Just like other similar cities, Birmingham didn’t weather the Great Recession well. Opportunity in the region was scarce for many people but certainly for young professionals.

Even though I had not planned to leave the area, it became clear that I, like many of my peers, would need to leave Birmingham to find the next great opportunity for myself.

I was recruited to be CEO of the Triangle Community Coalition in Raleigh, North Carolina, nearly a decade ago. In this role, I have been at the forefront of the economic growth in the nation’s second-fastest growing region, growing at 100 people per day.

The Triangle region’s “secret sauce” for economic growth and prosperity isn’t much different from what Birmingham already has today, which are top tier educational institutions, available land, infrastructure, lower cost of living, and a great quality of life.

But there is one major component Birmingham is missing – regional collaboration. Partnerships among the Birmingham area’s local governments, universities and colleges, and business community lag far behind its prosperous neighbors such as Nashville, Greenville, Charlotte, and Raleigh. This makes it difficult to have a regional vision for economic success.

Each year I join the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce as it embarks on an Inter-City Visit where the city council, county commissioners, school board, university and college presidents, public officials, and roughly 100 of the area’s business leaders travel together to learn the best (and worst) practices of other cities.

This trip is valuable beyond measure. It provides an opportunity for those who cast the region’s economic vision and those who are able to deliver on that vision to develop the necessary relationships that a thriving region needs. We benefit from learning what other regions have tried and their results.

Recently, we have traveled to Austin, Seattle, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and San Diego. From these trips, we have learned the best economic engines in the nation have one thing in common: regional collaboration, and there is always an organization leading these efforts.

With 35 municipalities in Jefferson County, it’s no wonder why regional collaboration can seem to be an overzealous challenge. These mayors and council members were elected by their citizens to represent their particular city, but the region’s economic vision and future is in their hands collectively.

To be effective, leaders need relationships. Relationships start with conversations, and the conversations with each other are not enough. They need the region’s business community and the post-secondary education institutions at the table. All of these stakeholders must communicate with each other regularly, not just for the region to be competitive but to improve the lives of citizens today.

It’s time we talk about a regional vision for jobs, workforce development, business, industry, housing, and quality of life with everyone at the table.

Birmingham needs a collaborator, a convener to lead this charge. The Birmingham Business Alliance is best equipped for this challenge by serving as the conduit for these key stakeholders. The most successful Chambers of Commerce in the nation have this as a major component to their operations. Now more than ever, the BBA has the opportunity to step up and lead Birmingham to fulfill the potential we all know it has.

My story is not much different from those you have heard before. There are many accounts of young people leaving the area due to lack of opportunity. ComebackTown’s David Sher has shared many of these. We, as community leaders, have to work together to ensure there is opportunity here for our children.

Let’s retain the talent that graduates from our educational institutions. Let’s foster an environment where innovation and opportunity can grow and thrive. Let’s create opportunities for these stakeholders to develop relationships. Let’s be intentional about creating this type of environment.

Let’s all collaborate to make this happen.

Jacob Rogers is the CEO of the Triangle Community Coalition and Southeast Non-Profit Housing, both based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Jacob’s primary focus is working with local and state elected officials on land-use and economic development policy in the Triangle.

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).

Click here to sign up for our newsletter. (Opt out at any time)

Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham.

(Visited 2,231 times, 1 visits today)

15 thoughts on “The missing secret sauce for Birmingham’s future”

  1. Thank you for this post. Many have spoken of regional cooperation but most are not as actionable as this post. I appreciate the naming of an organization to spearhead this and the suggestion of starting with relationships, quite obvious but not stated. I feel that this city is really on the cusp of something great and meaningful toward the path of realizing its potential.
    My question is:
    Is the BBA reading this suggestion? What about the mayors and city council members and college presidents of the area? Can it be forwarded to them? Most importantly, how can We The Public facilitate and actualize this process? I feel that I am just a private citizen with no political office or position of power and therefore I am just waiting for the people in power you mention (business leaders, political leaders, universities, etc.) to DO SOMETHING. What can we, the citizens of this city and county, do to really put our area on the road to meaningful regional cooperation and integration a la Raleigh, Nashville, Charlotte, and so many others?

    1. James, this is one of THE questions to ask. As citizens and neighbors, we have to communicate this to our elected leaders as the expectation. For those of us who are involved in civic organizations, we have to speak up and share what our priorities and expectations are. In Raleigh, several nonprofit organizations, including the Chamber, hire a third party polling firm to gauge public interest on these things. Jobs have been a top priority to residents in the Triangle for well over a decade. I think we all remember (and fear) the Great Recession. And this information needs to be shared with the public and elected leaders. It also has to be a priority for whichever organization takes the lead.

      The next phase is convening and following up. Fostering relationships takes effort, time, and regularity. We can’t meet once, come up with some good ideas, and wait another year before we reconvene.

      In Raleigh, the organizations (chambers, associations) and companies with Govt Affairs staff have breakfast monthly together. The Chamber CEOs of the area meet quarterly. The Town Managers meet quarterly. The mayors meet quarterly. Business and industry engage elected leaders regularly in nearly all of their programming.

      It takes intentionality and consistency. Before you know it, all of these folks are talking, building relationships, and discussing what the future could hold. It’s really not that difficult. We just have to be intentional and genuine about it.

      1. Thank you for this. I suspect that some of these things are already happening. I think some entities meet regularly already. I am not sure the mayors do. I wonder if anyone here knows what is actually already happening? Is there a cooperative initiative already in process and who is spearheading it? If there are things in process, what is missing and why do there not seem to be any tangible results. Would love if someone “in the know” maybe from the Chamber or the BBA or whatever would comment and enlighten us all. If there is something afoot the process does not seem to be very transparent, which is maybe a part of the problem. Also wondering if REV Birmingham is or could be involved in this process.

  2. WoW-Just what I have been posting on this site for at least two years and for which I have been labeled negative by people who don’t understand what is necessary to attract business and what is not of value to CEOs looking to relocate. I lived in Raleigh when the Research Triangle was started. In Louisville when the riverfront and Main Street was revitalized. when Indianapolis developed Lockerbie and White River were were started. I lived in New Orleans when the Warehouse district began in the first building, a roped and twine factory had been begun to be converted. Some idiots find my contributions negative.

    1. With all due respect Ed, you calling those who don’t agree with your opinion “idiots” will only serve to undermine your position. Maybe excitement that others are coming around to your vision, or enthusiasm for a growing number of people sharing your point of view would be more appropriate?

  3. I have read your post Jacob as one of the most significant I have seen here.

    This missing link is simply cooperation, and should include collaboration. It should not just be a dream or a plan, but a habit as it appears to be where you are. One thought that comes to mind as to why this has not really taken off in the Birmingham area is fear. There are several including: ‘ I will not get my way,’ or ‘Those people over there are taking our businesses away,’ ‘There are too many bad things happening over there and I feel threatened.’ Opening to friendly, positive getting to know others better must be a part of it. Being responsible for helping the entire community, not just your own backyard must be accepted. The existing long standing habits will be hard to break. We need help like you have given here, more of it.

  4. Here is the rub in this; UAB has ZERO, and I am mean ZERO interest in losing its place as the largest employer and powerbase. All the fed dollars that flow into the city courtesy of 4 Ave N gang of three would all be diluted as well.

    1. Would you tell us what you mean by the “fourth avenue north gang of three”? I am trying to visualize who they could be.

        1. Yes I hope Wang or someone else who knows what this means will respond. Wang mentioned UAB first. Does this gang have something to do with UAB? Speaking in cryptic terms like this doesn’t help us to get together and solve problems.

  5. The BBA needs to change its name to the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce now!!!!. Every city in the world uses the word Chamber of Commerce. The 35 cities and 13 school system fully understand what collaborate means in theory!! The practice is to work with the five member Jefferson County Commission as partners for a progressive Birmingham. More later!!!!

  6. I too left Birmingham upon graduation from college.
    I’ve since returned and retired. There are a lot of meetings and money spent on tours to other “ progressive) cities . Meetings alone won’t solve the problems. There are so many good things being learned but at a stalemate for implementation. Collaboration, leadership, involvement, implementation are key.

  7. After graduating, young people in Alabama are automatically burdened with car payments, car insurance, gasoline, etc. It’s much easier getting a head start in cities that have public transit. Alabama provides no public transit. Starting a business is damn near impossible with Student loans and auto costs. And cars are getting more expensive every day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *