Our leaders are ready to make Birmingham great again

Birmingham Skyline viewed from Railroad Park: Drawing by Jane Ross Reed,janereedrossart.com
Birmingham Skyline viewed from Railroad Park: Watercolor by Jane Reed Ross, janereedrossart.com

By David Sher

I’m dumbfounded.

Dumbfounded ‘good’.

Not dumbfounded ‘bad’.

Our Birmingham region has struggled for growth and economic progress for decades, but a recent poll clearly screams that our influential community leaders have had enough and are ready for change.

Our influential community leaders have a refreshing new mindset that has the potential to MBGA.

Yes, our leaders are ready to Make Birmingham Great Again!

If you don’t think Birmingham was great at one time, then you don’t know our history.

From our founding through the end of the 1960s, Birmingham was the primary industrial center of the South.

Birmingham grew so fast from 1881 through 1920 that it earned the nicknames The Magic City and The Pittsburgh of the South.

In 1950, Birmingham’s population was 5,000 less than Atlanta’s and we were on the cusp of becoming the largest city in the South.

Then, OOPS!!!

Jefferson County splintered into 35 separate municipalities and Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin ate our lunch.

Okay, many of you, including myself, are thankful we didn’t become Atlanta, but it would have been nice to remain competitive enough to create opportunities for ourselves and our children.

In 2017, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham published a study that provided overwhelming evidence “that regions that speak with one voice prosper better than those that don’t.”

The study noted that Birmingham is “one of the most fragmented communities in the South which has led to economic stagnation and stunted growth.”

The report predicted that “the future does not bode well for us unless we do things differently.”

The good news

Our future and our way of thinking is being transformed right before our eyes.

Powerpoll, a monthly poll of influential community leaders, recently released a poll that flips expected Birmingham fragmentation on its head.

The report clearly shows that a majority (55%) of our community leaders surveyed think regional cooperation has improved over the past decade.

Only 4% of the respondents believe regional cooperation has gotten worse.

This is a stunning turnaround from a few years ago when very few community leaders recognized the power of collaboration.

Even more remarkable, “While acknowledging improvement, the bulk of respondents said they would support measures to further increase cooperation.

“More than 80% of respondents said they’d support the creation of at-large positions on the Jefferson County Commission that would represent the interests of the entire county.

“…77% of respondents said they would support a consolidated metro area government similar to the setup in Nashville.”

“Respondents overwhelmingly identified economic development as the biggest potential benefit of improved regional cooperation.”

Proof of our progress

Since the Community Foundation study was released in 2017, the mayors in the Jefferson County Mayors’ Association signed an agreement that they would not poach businesses from one another.

This has created a trust between the mayors that didn’t exist prior to the agreement and currently there are on-going conversations on consolidating other services and buildings such as trash removal, 911 call centers, and jails.

Then shortly after the JeffCo mayors signed their agreement, a group of City Counsellors representing municipalities throughout Jefferson County began meeting regularly to exchange ideas and discuss issues they could address together.

It’s clear a large majority of our community leaders have had enough of ‘economic stagnation and stunted growth.’

Today it’s rare to hear a local political leader give a talk without giving  a thumbs up to government collaboration.

Our community leaders appear to have flipped.

That’s a good thing, because it creates a better opportunity for us to have a prosperous future.

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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18 thoughts on “Our leaders are ready to make Birmingham great again”

  1. And, thanks David to you! You have been a clarion call for regional cooperation ever since you started Comeback Town. Your efforts are indeed paying dividends.

    I continue to be amazed by what one determined man or woman can do to make a positive difference in this world. You are one of my heroes!

  2. David
    Thanks for these updates.l will believe it when I see these 13 School System Superintendents sit in public room monthly and commit to supporting each other and support all teachers and students and parents!!Race and class are always the elephant in the room! Poverty and crime are real in Jefferson County and the business community is going to have to put a public face on these two issues in 2024!!.Again thanks for being pro active.

    1. As long as everyone understands that dumbing down the schools is not the way to honest growth. Make all students make their grades and understanding is bigger. That is the way you create and keep the community growing and becoming more productive.

  3. At last, The Birmingham brains have been turned on. They have been dysfunctional.

    Keep this flow going and moving AQAP BUT do it carefully and thoughtfully, considering priorities. Realizing the necessities that accommodate growth is essential or you will have a huge mess, extremely difficult to undo.

    Livability is more important that size, as size has the ability to become a crisis. Land use, transportation, and open space are essential. cost and taxation must be balanced. Transportation, that is roadways are horribly congested and rapidly getting worse right now. Deferred maintenance is extremely expensive as costs go up and great damage must be replacement in some instances included.

    Do not forget the negative state politics. All the falsehood of Alabama being a rural state is now and for some time has been wrong. Racial calming and police protection must be. On the basis of population, Alabama is an urban state. How to get our fine country citizen neighbors to grapple with that is a significant challenge. The point to emphasize is how the cities help and assist the rural communities, and they do, for goods and services, state revenue, federal revenue and more. Unified rural urban generosity is very valuable.

    The fundamental points are these. We must do this, and we must be prepared in advance or there is trouble on its way. Do not hesitate!

    We all want to say BRAVO BIRMINGHAM. The MAGIC has returned and you are a great city with a brilliant future. And Alabama has also awakened, to the benefit of all its people!

    wish for the best as always

  4. I would like for the Alabama State Legislature to pass a law banning the creation of more city-based school districts. The number of such school districts in Jefferson County has been growing for decades and has concentrated resources in a few small wealthy communities thereby hurting socioeconomic mobility and education in general.

    1. Long overdue. I think State Senator Linda Coleman tried to do such around the time the City of Gardendale tried to do such. It is got of the community but never got to the floor for debate and passage. Remember we currently have 13 school systems in Jefferson County. Does that make sense for a county this size?

      1. It meant the bill got voted out of a committee by was voted on by the state senate! The federal court prevented the city of Gardendale from pulling out of the County Board and creating another unnecessary city school system. Race was the motive says the federal court! It seems litigation is always an issue in Jefferson County as opposed to a more pragmatic approach to prosperity for all?

      2. I think this is important to study further, but I do not think banning more districts would actually have very much effect. It might, but more management systems that would be required, more complex variations among them, and adding more costs that are not for teachers does pose a problem. Basic might be a method that would make it certain that students in all districts be assured that they will all get the best education.

    2. This is not some communist country. The lagging school systems are not a reflection of wealth. BHM schools administrative payrolls rival that of a F1000 company, with a bunch of middle useless management just receiving a paycheck with doing little if any work.

          1. So have you done this analysis for the other 12 school system in Jefferson County and come to the same conclusion? Happy Martin Luther King day to all who advocate for racial and economic equity in Jefferson County!!

        1. Such information requires corrective action, that is not for this true information but the waste of money shown, money that could be used to improve the quality of education by encouraging the teachers and attracting the best to come and stay. Good point.

          As for Martin Luther King. Yes he noted the importance of a person’s character and he was an advocate for peace. Those two things at the very least are history that must be remembered!

      1. I just made a comment in reply to George Munchus that should read also as my view of the importance of your finding regarding school funding. believe that is of fundamental value to any city, the quality of education.

        1. Roy good observation indeed.
          I have not yet looked at the funding numbers for any of the 13 school systems in Jefferson County. It seems Chung is zeroed in on the Birmingham City Schools for some reason?
          These 13 school systems are not as independent as they think they are as poverty and crime is very mobile!

          1. That is a good point and we find that these separate school systems are still keeping the communities too separate? It seems probable!

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