by David Sher BackCity to give voice to the people of Birmingham and Alabama.
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Today’s guest columnist is Daniel Coleman.
“We have to cultivate our own garden.”– Voltaire
If we are to solve Birmingham’s growth problems, we must take charge of our future.
Growth is within our control if we are willing to deal with it. Do not expect economic growth to come from elsewhere. Such growth is fleeting.
The benefits of growth created by someone else, somewhere else, will not come here. The benefits will flow elsewhere as jobs may disappear as soon as owners find cheaper labor.
To solve our economic growth problems, we must cultivate our own garden by strengthening our workforce, addressing structural issues that impede competition, and abandoning our zero-sum game mentality when it comes to economic growth.
Create workforce to meet contractor demands
We need workforce development that meets the needs of entrepreneurs.
We need to create an economically diverse ecosystem to attract experienced employees to the region. We need our educational institutions to train people with the skills entrepreneurs need, like programming, cybersecurity, and data science.
Our educational institutions need to develop critical thinking in our graduates, so they know how and where to apply these skills. Certification is not education; technological skills alone will not be enough to meet our needs.
We are in competition with metropolitan areas that are much more committed to higher education. We cannot measure ourselves against ourselves. Our success will be measured against graduates moving to Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte and Austin.
Need to compete
Alabamans love to compete. What if the Alabama state government passes a law requiring the University of Alabama to play only in state college football?
Of course, Coach Saban would have an easier time playing one, maybe two competitive games a year. What would happen if Alabama no longer played at LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee? Alabama would likely have even fewer casualties.
On the other hand, Alabama wouldn’t be competing every weekend. It wouldn’t be as strong from a team outside of the SEC. Over time, the best players who want to compete will play for the colleges that compete. The Alabama team would no longer be in the top tier of college football.
The state government would never pass such a law. If they did, we would have an entirely new legislature after the next election. And yet, we declare victory when our businesses and entrepreneurs succeed in state. We need to build companies that can compete with the best companies in the country.
Fair rules of the game
Developing the workforce and cultivating local capital will take years. In the meantime, we cannot afford self-inflicted mistakes that further hinder our growth. And yet we have them. We often make it difficult for ourselves to be competitive.
One obstacle is our tax law
According to the Hoover Institution report, innovative alabama, “The Tax Foundation…. ranks Alabama 41st in the nation in its overall business climate, as represented by its overall tax rates and the transactions to which they apply, but it separately ranks Alabama 4th in the nation in business incentives. innovative alabama, p. 83.
The benefits of tax policy accrue to a few homeowners, and often out of state, de facto raising taxes for everyone else. Our growing businesses that have less say in tax policy face a tax burden that is uncompetitive with our neighboring states.
Change our way of thinking
Economic growth is not a zero-sum game.
Moreover, it can provide the resources needed to solve many problems that we face as a state. Don’t confuse complacency with stability, monopolistic consolidation with efficiency, certification with education. We need to allocate our capital and resources based on the merits of the investments.
We should not expect crony capitalism to provide the benefits of free market capitalism. We should not blame free market capitalism for the injustice and inefficiencies we experience in our state today.
We should be skeptical of big plans; note where they come from and the motivations of the organizations behind them. We should accept the disturbance. If we can change the way we think about competition, if we can harness that natural desire to be competitive, economic growth will come.
Am I glad to be back?
Should I go home?
I don’t think Brooke and I could have done anything else.
Of course, I have my bad days. I question my decision every time someone cuts me off on Red Mountain and then turns on their turn signal. These moments pass. I’m not seriously considering leaving. On the contrary, I am obsessed with improving Birmingham; I am engrossed in the issues underlying Birmingham’s stagnant economic growth.
And yet, I am hopeful.
I’m hopeful because we share so much as a community.
Our civil rights past is no longer a shame, but a point of pride. We are religious. We love football. (Sometimes we mistake one for the other.) We love the food – Saw’s as well as Highlands. We are polite: we equate ugliness with rudeness. We love our families, even the members who support the wrong team.
We can’t drive in the snow. But we can tell the difference between a copperhead and a garter snake. We think dirt is red; “le Cochon” is a grocery store; and a threat polygon. We know that the moon above Homewood is not a celestial object. And we always come to the defense of our hometown when a “stranger” breaks us.
I accepted the position of President of Birmingham-Southern College because it offers incredible leverage to improve the economic prospects, and therefore all prospects, of my home town.
If ‘Southern can become a leading liberal arts university that integrates the technical resources of the 21st century, BSC will be able to transform this city’s workforce by creating technically critical thinkers and thought leaders. who will fill vacancies in growing companies and accelerate their growth.
As with other institutions in this state, BSC will need your support. Its success can be your shotgun blast, giving you leverage to move this town forward by sparking economic growth.
This is the 5th in a 5-part series by guest columnist Daniel Coleman on the fundamental issues that make Birmingham different and why Birmingham is uncompetitive.
Daniel Coleman, a Birmingham native with over three decades of experience in finance, is Birmingham South 16th President. Coleman, who was CEO of global financial services firm KCG Holdings until its sale in 2017, earned his BA in English from Yale University and his MBA from the University of Chicago.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of BackCity. He has served as Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham) and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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