by David Sher BackCity to give voice to the people of Birmingham and Alabama.

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Today’s guest columnist is Hunter Williams, Birmingham City Councillor.

Regional cooperation is the rising tide that will lift all ships in the Birmingham metropolitan area.

Unfortunately, our ships seem to have been stuck in mud and mire for some time.

That’s not to say Birmingham hasn’t experienced a period of tremendous growth, revitalization and rebirth that has brought national attention to our doorstep. Rather, this success and recognition has come as government leaders come together to fight for common goals.

It has been said that Birmingham can’t go out of its own way, but I would say the adage is more accurately applied to the whole region and the patchwork of municipalities within it.

Mistrust and inequity

The issues we face are complex. They stem from generations of distrust and inequality that are certainly not isolated to our Southern city – although the well-documented “white flight” and suburbanization caused by racial animosity and the new interstate system of the 1970s is not only exacerbated these problems of inequity and division that we still face today.

Lack of regional cooperation is not just a government problem, nor can these socio-economic problems be solved by throwing money at them or centralizing government. We need to be honest about our problems and then we need to work to identify realistic solutions.

That said, here are some areas we would all benefit from if we were all on the same page: shared economic interests, leadership initiatives, youth sports, and public safety.

Shared economic interests

A big part of addressing these gaps is realizing and building on our collective strengths. One of our main exports is construction, which is a good thing. There has been no shortage of construction cranes in recent years, despite the challenges we have faced during this public health crisis.

However, as we have seen all too often, local businesses are not always retained by companies looking to expand their presence. It is regional money that we leave on the table to save money quickly. It’s myopic and misguided.

On the other side of this coin, our local businesses must support and hire local workers. One thing that was unsettling was seeing so many projects with Birmingham-based companies and walking past and seeing all the worker tags – none of which were Jefferson County tags.

We have union locals and workrooms that might have slightly higher rates, however, those dollars go straight back into the pockets of those who live in Birmingham instead of going all the way to Tennessee or a county rural Alabama.

Currently the City of Birmingham is considering providing legislation to ensure that we do this on all of our City funded building projects.

Leadership Initiatives

Additionally, Leadership Birmingham is an organization of local leaders focused on advancing the entire metropolitan area – it is made up of the best and brightest people from across the region. Unfortunately, we tend to stray from the smaller leadership initiatives of neighboring municipalities that focus on specific interests within their jurisdictions. It doesn’t move the regional needle at all, and I’d like to see these groups consolidated into one that focuses on regional cooperation, not just the interests of a singular municipality.

Youth Sports

Beyond questions of economic cooperation, the delta between the opportunities our children in the Birmingham City School System are exposed to and the schools above the mountain is staggering. It’s no secret that the wealth gap between our school system and that of neighboring districts is one of the largest in the country.

What brings us together again and again is athletics – whether it’s the Olympics or something as small as youth sports where kids can interact and compete with kids they wouldn’t have otherwise never had the opportunity to meet or hang out. We need to better use athletics as a way to bring together a very fragmented education system that is segregated based on family net worth. Youth sports leagues can be a way to bring kids from all walks of life together and allow them to hang out and learn from each other.

We see overseas leagues that are not specific to these communities in their rules, however, in reality, they are almost exclusively made up of children from these communities. These types of leagues are not available to Birmingham City School students. Giving our children in Birmingham more opportunities, through youth sports, to interact with children in communities across the mountains is one of the ways we can begin to bring our region together and collectively build a better future for the entire metropolitan region.

Cooperation with public safety

Finally, I would like to briefly address the issue of public safety. Simply put, we need each of our police chiefs and fire chiefs to join the leadership of the Jefferson County Mayors Association & Jefferson County Councilors Roundtable. Our leadership has been clear. We will never reach our full potential if we do not move forward as a region.

If we’re stealing each other’s labor, we’re not moving forward, we’re just swapping assets and treading water. The “poaching-free” agreement of the Association of Mayors must be replicated by police and fire chiefs throughout the metropolitan area. This will significantly reduce the staffing issues we have seen in recent months and help us move forward in the war of attrition facing many of our emergency services across the region.

Together we have faced many uncommon challenges in recent years, but I firmly believe this has helped us realize our collective strength as the Birmingham metropolitan area has been and will remain the heartland of Alabama – economically, culturally and geographically. Imagine what we could do if we all walked to a beat instead of tripping over each other.

Birmingham City Councilor Hunter Williams was first elected in 2017 and re-elected in 2021. In his first term he served as Chairman of Public Safety and is currently Chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee .

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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