Birmingham: The Next “It” City by Thinking Small

Birmingham: The Next “It” City by Thinking Small

Birmingham’s homegrown success stories like Shipt and large-scale development investments such as the new Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer deservingly gain headlines due to the excitement of the massive economic benefits created. 

No less important though are Birmingham’s unsung heroes – the thousands of small businesses and countless employees that comprise the heart and soul of our local economy and workforce.  To nurture Birmingham’s small business environment, the City of Birmingham launched the inaugural Small Business Council (“SBC”)  in 2019.

The Small Business Council

The SBC is an initiative of Mayor Randall Woodfin and the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity designed to assist the City in creating an environment to attract new entrepreneurs and cultivate existing small businesses.

In describing the importance of small business, Mayor Woodfin declared, “Entrepreneurs have a vision and a voice. Birmingham’s small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and the backbone of our city, and we look forward to hearing from them.”

Small business critical to our future

Small businesses share a similar impact across the United States.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, 99.9% of all businesses nationwide are small business.  Among all American employees, 47.5% work at a small business.

I recently participated in my first meeting as a member of the SBC.  Our charge is to advise Mayor Woodfin and his administration on strategic and practical matters related to small business.

The SBC is a diverse group of twenty-two small business owners, start-up founders and ecosystem builders.  We are risk takers, cultivators, professional service providers, restauranteurs, tech company leaders and more.  Each of us brings a unique perspective to share with the City to help shape policy suggestions and enhance the business community.

I bring my legal experience representing small business owner clients, as well as understanding the challenges in operating a small business myself.  Together, the SBC members will aspire to develop collective best practices through our small business connections across the landscape of Birmingham.

Goals of SBC

In our initial two-year term, the SBC will focus on strengthening Birmingham’s partnership with small businesses in four key areas:  1) access to capital, 2) Birmingham’s ecosystem, 3) city services and 4) minority and women owned business enterprises support.

Providing small business owners with increased assistance will empower these entrepreneurs to thrive with the City of Birmingham alongside them as a valued partner.  We further have an ambitious goal for Birmingham to be the desired destination for women and minority entrepreneurs.

Supporting small businesses makes good fiscal sense for Birmingham too.  When small businesses grow, so does our economy.  The City of Birmingham has over a $400 million dollar budget.  Approximately 80% of City revenues come from business license fees and sales tax.

With small business being a critical piece of Birmingham’s future growth, investing resources in small businesses can deliver significant returns by improving the recruitment, expansion and retention of small businesses.  The benefits will not only consist of newly created employment opportunities, but will also include additional revenues generated for the City to provide greater services to its people.

Birmingham, the next ‘it’ city

In 2013, I wrote a column for ComebackTown about Birmingham’s need to develop a strong identity.  I explained that “[i]n order to bridge the gap between Birmingham and other Southern cities so that we will not only survive, but thrive, Birmingham must build an identity and a brand so that we can better market and position ourselves to be an ‘it’ city.”

Can investment in small business, start-ups and innovation be the answer?  If Birmingham can successfully develop into destination for entrepreneurship, we can accelerate the amount of new investment, job growth and population in Birmingham.  A strong entrepreneurship culture and expanding economy will be a massive opportunity to attract more capital into Birmingham.

It will also help us deploy a larger share of the growing college student populations at UAB and other nearby schools post-graduation into our workforce.  UAB Collat School of Business is actively working to train the next generation of business owners by continually enhancing its Innovation and Entrepreneurship program as a key area of study.  These students can supply a pipeline of new talent, innovation and diversity for Birmingham.

The SBC will complement our regional economic development strategy and help pursue the Vision of the Birmingham Office of Economic Development, which states that by 2021, “Birmingham will be a hub of qualified and diverse talent and a premier destination for small businesses, startups, and businesses looking to expand, propelling shared prosperity through innovation and inclusive growth.”

By capitalizing on the start-up and small business economy, “innovation” will be Birmingham’s distinct brand identity as we transition into the next “it” city.

This article was authored by Vincent J. Graffeo and originally published on on May 28, 2019.

Vincent J. “V. J.” Graffeo is attorney and the founder of Graffeo Law, LLC.  He represents businesses and individuals in civil litigation and corporate matters across Alabama.  V. J. also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the UAB Collat School of Business, where he teaches classes in Legal Environment of Business and Business Foundations.  Click here to  learn more about the City of Birmingham Small Business Council and its members.

David Sher is the publisher of and Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).