Today’s guest columnist is Maury Shevin.
If there is any dream that I have for my hometown it is this:
Birmingham, Alabama is a metropolitan area where its young people do not leave home for other cities; rather young people move to Birmingham for its world class job opportunities and vibrancy.
Is this still only a dream or is it becoming reality?
Let me step back in history for just a moment.
For my entire life, too many of the best and brightest young people have exited Birmingham for perceived brighter futures in Atlanta, and more recently in Charlotte, Nashville and other Sunbelt cities.
Notwithstanding our having the same temperate climate and similar natural resources, other cities have beckoned our young people with their offers of better job opportunities and a more progressive social atmosphere.
For too many years, political dysfunction and passive indifference by those in positions of power, and often outright discrimination, fostered this less-than-ideal place for personal and professional growth.
But, is this changing? Have we in Birmingham found our groove? Maybe we have.
As many recent Comeback Town columnists have noted, Birmingham’s landscape is changing. And this change is opening job opportunities for young people. Our entrepreneurs develop new venues of all types, and our political leaders have used their political capital to support change.
This combination has given us the Parkside, Midtown and Lakeview transformations, the Crossplex, Uptown and Protective Stadium, and now the redevelopment of Southtown and Carraway.
And of critical importance there is the steady leadership of UAB and its related entities that play a strategic role in keeping our region competitive. UAB is a world class center for medicine and education. If you travel at all, you know this to be a fact—not just my opinion.
Our corporations including O’Neal Industries, Brasfield & Gorrie, Shipt and Landing continue to welcome new hires to Birmingham. Job opportunities in technology and the arts are here in Birmingham for those who are looking.
Our social scene, including the celebration of Pride and Juneteenth speak volumes to our changing sense of place.
These changes have not come about easily, nor overnight. Mayor Woodfin, Mayor Brocato and other political leaders are working tirelessly to draw business opportunities to the Birmingham Metropolitan area to create a welcoming future for Birmingham’s next generation. Because of their efforts, we are more self-assured, more self-confident. We are not afraid to try new things—even if some are problematic.
So, how does Birmingham build on its successes?
First, let’s quit bemoaning that we are not Atlanta, Georgia. And, just why would anyone want to be? Who wants hours in traffic and the paving of our backyards with freeways and strip malls, particularly when job opportunities and cultural enrichment are virtually 15 minutes away from everyone’s home?
Next, let’s play to our strengths. For example, by all rights, we should have a world class human rights and civil rights tourism industry in Birmingham. Why isn’t our Civil Rights District already the dominant one in the USA? Couldn’t, shouldn’t a world class Civil Rights District be every bit a major driver of the Birmingham economy that UAB is? Let’s demand it.
And, let’s demand that our Jefferson County and Shelby County Legislative delegations work together. Mobile and Huntsville have proven that when their counties’ legislators work together they accomplish their goals. We in Metropolitan Birmingham do not need to be subjugated to the will of Montgomery.
Retention of our young adults should be our prime directive. This is accomplished by providing them with excellent job opportunities in a welcoming and progressive social environment. Other Sunbelt cities are doing this. We are too. Let’s better market our story.
Maury Shevin—passionate about the City of Birmingham–lives, works, thinks and plays on Birmingham’s Southside.
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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