A story that $55 million in Union gold was lost during the Civil War has long been dismissed as a myth — but this week, a team of FBI agents joined the search in rural Pennsylvania.
Birmingham Business Alliance pursuing ‘all-time high’ economic development projects
The head of the Birmingham Business Alliance said the metro area is coming off a very successful year for economic development, but the prospects for even more growth in 2018 are “at an all-time high.”
BBA CEO Brian Hilson said at the organization’s annual Chairman’s Meeting Tuesday that economic development in the seven-county metro area was very strong in 2017.
“So far in 2017, we’ve seen 2,957 jobs and over $560 million in investment announced by 25 different new and expanding companies within our core business sectors,” Hilson said.
This year continues a string of successful years for attracting new and expanding industry to the state, Hilson said.
“Between 2011 and 2017, we have seen 19,394 jobs and over $3.9 billion in capital investment committed within our seven-county metro area,” he said.
That has caused the BBA to be ambitious with its current five-year plan.
“At the BBA, we have a goal of 19,000 jobs and $3.5 billion of investment being announced between 2016 and 2020,” Hilson said. “So we’re at the halfway point as we approach the year 2018 and as we continue to execute our five-year strategic plan, which we call Blueprint 2020.”
“Our level of project activity is at an all-time high, at least for the six and a half years that I’ve been in Birmingham,” Hilson said in an interview with Alabama NewsCenter. “But probably more important, the quality of those projects and the diversity of skills that they would require of the workforce – it’s not all automotive and it’s not all something else – that’s very encouraging.”
Automotive projects dominated the headlines in the metro area in 2017.
Commercial truck producer Autocar opened a $120 million plant in Pinson Valley, not far from where auto supplier Kamtek opened a $60 million expansion.
Representatives of those three companies as well as Honda’s plant in Lincoln made up a panel discussion of the auto industry and the metro area’s business climate. John Hudson, senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development for Alabama Power, moderated the panel.
A shared concern among the panel is that the metro area may become a victim of its own success – namely in a dwindling available workforce.
Hilson said the BBA’s Blueprint 2020 calls for at least a 5 percent growth in overall workforce between 2016 and 2020.
“What we really want to see, though, is much faster growth than that and for that to happen we will need a higher and better rate of workforce participation, more connectivity between employers and workforces as well as educators and trainers, and, of course, we will need to see our community image continue to get better,” he said.
(By Michael Tomberlin, courtesy of the Alabama News Center)
BIRMINGHAM BOOM: More than $1 billion invested in Magic City region in 2015
The nearly $1.1 billion in capital investment from the announced economic development projects in the Birmingham metro area last year may be an all-time high for the region.
Brian Hilson, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), told business and community leaders at this morning’s 2016 Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit that the figure is at or near a record. The investment came from 90 announced projects that will create more than 3,500 jobs.
“The goal isn’t statistics, it’s creating economic opportunity,” Hilson said.
However, statistics for 2015 did show mostly encouraging signs for that economic opportunity. Consider:
• Manufacturing accounted for 64 percent of the projects, 49 percent of the jobs and 75 percent of the capital investment announced last year.
• Finance and insurance industries made up 8 percent of the projects, 29 percent of the jobs and 14 percent of capital investment.
• Life sciences and information technology, where the BBA sees potential for great growth, accounted for 12 percent of the projects, 8 percent of the jobs and 4 percent of the capital investment in 2015.
• Between 2001 and 2010, the metro area had an annual average of 55 new projects, 1,875 jobs and capital investment of $255.7 million. Between 2011 and 2015, the first years of Blueprint Birmingham, those annual averages were 76 projects (up 38 percent), 2,890 jobs (up 54 percent) and $569.3 million invested (up 123 percent).
“Our economy remains strong and continues to grow,” said Ray Watts, president of UAB and chairman of the BBA board of directors. “But more than that, I believe the trends we are seeing in Birmingham and in the metro region are moving us in the right direction.”
Andy Levine, president of Development Counsellors International, delivered the keynote address. Levine’s company has been working with BBA to enhance Birmingham’s national image.
Levine said while some people associate the Jefferson County bankruptcy as a modern-day negative, there are positive perceptions centering on Birmingham’s culinary scene, downtown redevelopment and UAB.
Overall, there is an absence of perception, Levine said.
“I think there is a lot more people could know about Birmingham and there are a lot of positive things that could be shared about it,” Levine said.
He said the entrepreneurial environment is the most powerful story Birmingham has to tell in 2016.
Most business leaders’ perceptions of a community come from what they hear from peers, what they read in newspapers and magazines, and through travel to a city, Levine said.
Levine called on leaders in Birmingham to act as ambassadors, share their news with BBA so it can be amplified, and embrace visitors to the region.
BBA officials updated how Birmingham fared against 11 peer cities in 15 key categories.
Hilson said Birmingham improved its ranking in 10 of the categories, was unchanged in three and declined in two.
The 10 where it improved were average labor force (from 12th to ninth), gross domestic product (12th to seventh), annual average employment (from 12th to 10th), per capita personal income (eighth to fifth), construction investment (10th to seventh), merchandise export totals (12th to ninth), population age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree (ninth to eighth), population age 25 or older with an associate’s degree (10th to sixth), population estimate (11th to ninth) and at-risk youth age 16 to 19 not a high school graduate or not in the labor force or unemployed (eighth to fifth).
Birmingham remained unchanged in National Institutes of Health awards (fourth), National Science Foundation total research and development expenditures (fifth) and population age 25 or older with a high school diploma (ninth).
The two areas where Birmingham declined were in cost of living annual average composite index (fourth to fifth) and violent crime rate per 100,000 (seventh to ninth).
Those declining areas are a concern, Hilson said. Another red flag is in the total employment in the metro area. The region had a high of 533,400 jobs in 2007 but has not since reached that figure. Hilson said total employment dipped below 500,000 during the recession and ended 2015 at 515,500.
That is one of several areas addressed in Blueprint 2020, the new five-year economic growth plan that will guide the BBA’s efforts starting this year.
Blueprint 2020 takes a targeted approach to key economic development components such as human capital, physical capital and financial capital. It updates BBA’s approach to business development and existing industry retention and renewal.
It also makes innovation and technology a separate strategic initiative at BBA.
For the next five years, the BBA plans to focus on eight industry recruitment and expansion clusters: aerospace, automotive, chemicals, financial and insurance services, information technology and analytical instruments, life sciences, machinery manufacturing and metal manufacturing.
Hilson said the industry clusters that will receive the greatest emphasis are automotive, finance and insurance services, information technology and analytical instruments, and life sciences.
“I think what you will see in the next five years is a continuation of the best of what we’ve been doing through Blueprint Birmingham but a significant narrowing of our focus in order to be more attentive to the areas that need the most attention,”Hilson said.
Birmingham positioning itself as Alabama’s hotbed of innovation
By Michael Tomberlin
When the Birmingham City Council voted last month to change the name of the city’s “Entrepreneurial District” to the “Innovation District,” some influential leaders applauded the move not just for branding reasons, but for the realization of what the Magic City has become and can become.
Since that decision, leaders from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, REV Birmingham, Innovation Depot, the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama have met with Birmingham Mayor William Bell to ensure the Innovation District will emerge in reality and not just in the changing of the signs that mark the district.
“The City Council’s action to change the formal name of the ‘Entrepreneurial District’ to the ‘Innovation District’ is a declaration of the intent of the City of Birmingham, UAB, Innovation Depot, BBA and other partners to put Birmingham’s City Center on the global map as a hotbed of innovation,” David Fleming, president of REV Birmingham, said. “It is a response to recognition by stakeholders that the goal of this area is to be a place in our city that fosters new methods, ideas and products. This area can be defined by the connection, culture and collaboration that results in an innovation economy in our city. This is critical for the growth of the Birmingham region and our competiveness in the modern economy.”
As with the Entrepreneurial District, the Innovation District is bordered by the railroad lines to the south, Second Avenue North to the north, Interstate 65 to the west and 18th Street to the east.
At the heart of the district is Innovation Depot, a business incubator established by UAB that is home to a number of startups, many of them in innovative and emerging technology fields.
Devon Laney, CEO of Innovation Depot, said having an identified district provides a place for companies to grow in a place where they have indicated they want to be.
“Having an established Innovation District focused on the connectivity, walkability and clustered technology industries startups most desire can have a major impact on this region moving forward,” Laney said. “Innovation Depot’s member companies overwhelmingly want to remain ‘close’ or ‘adjacent’ to Innovation Depot when they graduate. Seventy-five percent of our companies indicate a preference to remaining in the downtown area, with a majority specifically citing the Innovation District. Connectivity is essential, both in terms of infrastructure and the relationships and resources the companies have developed here at Innovation Depot. This is a new model of urban economic development.”
Economic development officials agree.
“We feel that changing the name to Innovation District better represents what’s currently happening, and will happen, in the area anchored by Innovation Depot,” Brian Hilson, president and CEO of the BBA, said. “This is a great way to help spread innovation throughout Birmingham’s central business district, and attract and retain more businesses in our area.”
At some point the signs that mark the “Entrepreneurial District” will come down and new ones will go up declaring it the “Innovation District.” But the real signs will be the innovation taking place by those who are already in or will come into the district, Laney said.
“The city was recently named as a ‘Tech Hire’ city by the White House, and Fast Company magazine named Birmingham as the No. 1 city in America for millennial entrepreneurs,” Laney said. “This positive focus on our city and region is driving the growth of young entrepreneurs in the technology space we see. TechBirmingham, BBA, Innovation Depot, UAB, and other partners are helping to promote and advance the technology ecosystem in our community, with a major part of that effort being the vision and development of the Innovation District.”
‘The New Alabama’ showcased to top Japanese leaders during major trade conference
By: Michael Tomberlin
The SEUS Japan 38 conference may have ended nearly a week ago, but economic development officials believe it will have lasting effects for Birmingham and the state.
The 38th joint meeting of the Southeast U.S./Japan and the Japan-U.S Southeast Associations was held in Birmingham last week. Seven southeastern states had their own positive stories to tell about the business and cultural relationships with Japan – to the tune of nearly 140,000 employees working at Japanese companies in those states.
But Alabama had the home-field advantage for the conference and used it to showcase Birmingham with events at the Alabama Theatre, Barber Motorsports Park and within the Magic City’s culinary scene.
“Hosting the SEUS conference gave us a prime opportunity to showcase the new Alabama to influential Japanese leaders, including the ambassador, consuls general and VIPs,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Many of the Japanese delegates had never been to Alabama, and we believe we were able to present them with a view of Birmingham and the state that positions us to build on this partnership.”
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Japan is the top foreign investor in Alabama. Japanese companies invested $345 million in the state in 2014.
“Successful business development, and in particular international direct investment and trade, depends first upon relationships,” Brian Hilson, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said. “That is especially true with Japanese companies. Alabama has over 70 Japanese direct investments, including 13 companies in the Birmingham area. It is important that we maintain strong and active relationships with those companies, and that we develop new relationships with other Japanese companies interested in doing business here.”
Those in attendance left with a fresh image of the state, according to Hilda Lockhart, director of International Trade for the Alabama Department of Commerce and the chief organizer of SEUS Japan 38.
“Feedback from the delegates from Japan and the other SEUS states indicates that we were able to show them that Alabama has a lot of offer,” Lockhart said. “Hosting events at venues like the Alabama Theatre and the Barber museum made an impression, as did speakers such as Dr. (Condoleezza) Rice and Martin Luther King III. This allowed us to share our vision of Alabama and the future of our relationship with Japan.”
The BBA made it a point to use Birmingham’s hosting position as an opportunity for economic development. Hilson said there were talks with Japanese business leaders and officials to explore how the metro area could see more expansion and recruitment prospects.
“We have always used the conference to develop relationships and identify new business opportunities. The Birmingham community and the state of Alabama were on a world stage during last week’s conference, and the planning and leadership that went into making the conference such a success, as we had hoped, also led to some new business opportunities for Birmingham,” Hilson said. “In addition to the conference, we hosted meetings with individual Japanese companies that came here for the conference, but also scheduled additional time to meet with us and get to know Birmingham.”
Those meetings were fruitful, he said.
“It was obvious that they sensed the momentum our community has, and they channeled their interests toward several key partnership opportunities, including UAB and Southern Research,” Hilson said. “Thanks to the strong impression they had of Birmingham through the conference, we have planned additional follow-up meetings with each of them.”
This year was the third time the SEUS Japan conference has been in Alabama. It was the second time Birmingham has hosted the conference since the very first SEUS Japan in 1984.
“I think the bottom line is that SEUS demonstrated the high level of commitment Alabama has to our relationship with Japan and how the state is growing and innovating to meet the needs of future Japanese investment,” Canfield said. “This investment has been very good to Alabama, and we want to continue being a favored destination of Japanese companies.”
Lockhart said the corporate community helped make SEUS Japan 38 successful.
“The support of Alabama’s corporate sector was key to the success of SEUS Japan 38, with substantial backing from Alabama Power, the Tennessee Valley Authority and many others,” she said. “Significantly, officials from the Alabama operations of Honda, Toyota and Protective Life/Dai-ichi were able to tell their stories directly to the Japanese delegates. The involvement of Regions, as Alabama’s only Fortune 500 company, and CEO Grayson Hall as the event co-chair, was also a tremendous benefit.”
Birmingham’s downtown named one of the country’s 10 best
Birmingham, Ala.’s downtown has just been named one of the 10 best downtown areas in the entire United States by Livability.com, a popular site that tracks America’s best places to live and visit.
Coming in at #10 on this year’s list, Livability.com calls Birmingham “a comeback story that’s still being written.”
“Downtown Birmingham, Ala., is on the rise after suffering from years of economic loss stemming from a dwindling population and industry decline,” the site explained. “The redesign and renovation of a park kick-started a series of ongoing revitalization projects that continue to attract new businesses, visitors and residents.
Some of the “key indicators” Livability.com cited as evidence of downtown Birmingham’s resurgence include its 6.8% unemployment rate, 2.8% average income growth, and the fact that retail vacancies dropped 1.7 percent from 2012 to 2013.
But it’s the city’s intangible qualities that propel it into the top 10.
“The best downtowns foster creativity, inclusion and innovation,” Livibility.com said. “They showcase what is good about a community by offering a diverse array of local architecture, art, lifestyles and things to do. Great downtowns unite residents from all walks of life, even those in the suburbs, by providing places to connect. Above all, the top-performing downtowns must maintain a high level of energy and give all residents in a city a reason to come on down.”
Birmingham Business Alliance CEO Brian Hilson said Birmingham’s inclusion on the list will help to further promote investment in the downtown area.
“This is fantastic news, not only for the City of Birmingham, but for the entire Birmingham region,” said Hilson. “Downtowns, especially active ones like ours in Birmingham, help project a positive community image. Downtowns serve as a signature place for the community they are part of. They contain history, and they represent current and future economic vitality. In most metropolitan areas the downtown is the economic hub of the region, and that’s definitely true in Birmingham because of the concentration of employment, as well as the livability features downtown Birmingham offers. It is exciting to see downtown Birmingham receive this much-deserved recognition. We’ll use this positive news to promote further investment in Birmingham.”
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