Above: State, county and city officials celebrate Kamtek’s announcement in August. Officials have credited intergovernmental cooperation with the metro area’s economic development success. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)
The rebirth of Birmingham’s City Center has helped generate more than $1 billion in capital investment over the past year, according to the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA).
Brian Hilson, president and chief executive officer of the BBA, said Birmingham’s year-to-date capital investment within its primary business sectors now stands at $1.1 billion – about double its annual average since 2011 and four times the annual average for the previous decade.
“A combination of factors is contributing to the 32 individual companies’ decisions to invest in Birmingham,” Hilson said. “Among them: competitive overall costs doing business, a productive workforce and in some cases incentives.”
The largest investment projects this year are by manufacturing leaders Kamtek ($534 million) and U.S. Steel ($277 million).
Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington and others pointed to the revival around the City Center and downtown Birmingham – which includes the Uptown Entertainment District, Regions Field, Railroad Park and more than 1,300 condominium units planned or under construction – as part of the catalyst.
Elected officials collaborate more with business leaders now than in the past and that has helped, area officials say.
“I think you’re seeing a level of intergovernmental cooperation like I haven’t seen or observed in years,” said Carrington, chairman of the Jefferson County Commission’s Finance and Business Development Committee.
Hilson added, “In a sense, downtown Birmingham is the community’s ‘signature,’ and the excitement and momentum that exists as a result of its rebirth and strong investment activity are helping to shape the image of the entire Birmingham region.”
A number of leaders applauded Birmingham Mayor William Bell for creating “energy and a can-do” mindset in City Hall.
“I think (Bell) has shown great leadership skills and represents us well,” Carrington said. “His decision to build the ballpark, I think, will go down as a huge catalyst. It’s his willingness to go out and recruit (globally) and to take the hit when people say he is having a junket.”
Bell said he understands the importance of having everyone focusing on the same goals.
“Where some past administrations found it easy to say no, I’ve found ways to say yes,” Bell said. “For too long Birmingham has suffered from an us-against-them mentality. I’ve tried to show that we are all in this boat together, and our survival is dependent on each other.”
Recent Birmingham economic development successes have included:
- Marriott announced two new hotels in downtown Birmingham, including a $45 million investment to redevelop the Empire Building and the former Alagasco headquarters, which will add 237 rooms to the City Center.
- BBVA Compass made a $13 million capital investment for a software development center.
- Hilton announced two new downtown hotels.
- Publix announced plans for a regional distribution center at Jefferson County’s JeffMet Park, with an initial investment of $34 million and 200 jobs.
Add to those the value of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which Carrington often touts during speaking engagements throughout the county.
“What is Birmingham, Alabama, or Jefferson County without UAB?” Carrington said. “It’s scary to me when I think of the importance of this university. UAB receives more research grant dollars than all other colleges and universities in Alabama combined. It is estimated that UAB’s economic development impact on the local economy is $5 billion annually.”
Carrington points out that the area has a robust transportation network that includes five interstate highways and construction underway on the $3.2 billion Northern Beltline.
“Site selection consultants tell you the number one requirement is highway access,” Carrington said. “That’s one of the things that is a strength for us. Our transportation network and geographic location are strengths.”
The area has three tier-one railroads that can reach 78 percent of the nation’s population by rail in two days or less, as well as an international airport, he added.
What the future holds
“The best way for a community to continue to advance in economic development is to feed off of the results of recent development. Birmingham is benefiting from an enhanced image as a place to do business, live and work,” Hilson said. “The BBA recognizes that this excitement about Birmingham can be leveraged to achieve more growth. Success breeds success, and the BBA is using Birmingham’s latest achievements to further its marketing outreach, with emphasis on the business sectors that best align with Birmingham’s most important assets.”