Birmingham, unlike many other metro areas, is separated into multiple cities, and this divides us, said David Sher, publisher of ComebackTown.com, a blog aimed at creating a more prosperous metro Birmingham, during Alabama Media Professionals’ January 2019 meeting at Homewood Public Library.
Sher brought up Birmingham’s divided government in 1992 and was told trying to change it was hopeless. Twenty-five years later, at a meeting, he brought up the topic again and got the same answer. “People are not willing to take the time and resources to try,” said Sher, who is also co-founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections, a nationally licensed collection agency headquartered in Birmingham.
The blog www.comebacktown.com was a response to people saying nothing would change, Sher said. Content is published every week on the blog, and guest bloggers bring new and fresh perspectives. Readers are encouraged to subscribe to the blog’s e-mail newsletter.
What happened to Birmingham? Sher discussed young people leaving, companies no longer headquartering in the city and their support businesses disappearing. All these things have had major economic and cultural impacts, Sher said.
From Sher’s perspective, the main problems Birmingham faces are:
The city of Birmingham is less than 20 percent of the people in the metro area. Yet all those people look to Birmingham to “fix” our region, and there aren’t enough resources.
There are 35 municipalities in Jefferson County, which leads to inefficiency. This means, for example, we have 13 emergency 911 call centers.
Businesses are encouraged to move from one city to another for tax incentives, which are costly, as is the tactic of cities within the metro area “stealing” from one other. It does not grow services or jobs, and the funding could have been used to recruit new businesses.
The Jefferson County Commission does not have county-wide representation. It also combines legislative and executive functions, which can lead to corruption (and has).
Alabama’s state constitution does not allow home rule, so revenue and government changes are difficult.
There has been progress, Sher said. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham did a study to explore other cities with similar issues and their solutions. They included Louisville, Kentucky (combined city/county in 2003); Nashville; Charlotte, North Carolina (functional consolidation); and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (county mayor).
Denver was studied because of an agreement among metro-area mayors to not steal businesses. They cooperate to locate new businesses in the area, recognizing the benefit to all. Sher said the new generation of mayors in the Birmingham area is positive in regard to possibly following this lead.
Birmingham has a unique combination of traits – friendliness, helpfulness, a sense of community and generosity, Sher said. “It is a great place that needs to reach its full potential,” he concluded.
Here are Sher’s blogging tips:
If a post doesn’t get a lot of views, change the title to make it more appealing. “It’s not clickbait,” he said. “As long as the article is what you say in the headline, that’s just good writing.”
Ask others to re-publish your blog. Sher got a break about six weeks into his project. AL.com asked to republish his blog (and newsletter link).
An email newsletter is a good way to communicate. It engages readers and directs them to the blog.