Over $1 billion was invested in Birmingham’s regional economy in 2015, but the region’s prosperity has not trickled down to many of our neighborhoods and small businesses creating two Birminghams: a downtown that has attracted virtually all of the Mayor’s attention the past seven years and the rest of Birmingham looking for more leadership from the Mayor’s Office to create opportunities for our residents, our students and our small businesses. City Hall has to play an active role in creating opportunities for all Birmingham residents and creating an environment where our small businesses can thrive. As Mayor, I would execute a seven-point “Opportunity Agenda” that would fully leverage City Hall in support of Birmingham’s greatest resource: its people.
Creating neighborhood job placement centers. Birmingham’s regional economy has grown dramatically in the past few years, but far too many Birmingham residents find themselves on the margins of Birmingham’s regional economy. As Mayor, I would develop partnerships with Jefferson County Workforce Development centers, adult education providers, the Birmingham Business Alliance, and the local business community to convert City-owned community centers in high-unemployment neighborhoods into “Opportunity Centers” that can connect Birmingham residents to job training, adult education and local employment opportunities. Far too often we ask our most economically vulnerable residents to fend for themselves when it comes to getting the training they need and connecting them to existing opportunities locally. Neighborhood Opportunity Centers would do just the opposite by bringing the opportunities to the neighborhoods that need it the most.
Tax incentives for hiring Birmingham residents from key neighborhoods. Birmingham’s Occupational Tax presents a potential tool for City Hall to encourage Birmingham businesses to hire residents from high-unemployment neighborhoods. As Mayor, I would work with the City Council to develop an “Opportunity Tax Credit” – a tax credit against a company’s Occupational Tax liability for hiring and retaining Birmingham residents from high-unemployment neighborhoods, formerly incarcerated Birmingham residents, and Birmingham public housing residents.
Free community college Birmingham Public School high school graduates. Virtually every job paying a living wage in the Birmingham economy requires something more than a high school diploma, but we have to do more to ensure that our students are not saddled with debt if they go to college. I believe that no Birmingham Public School student that graduates should have to pay to attend Lawson State Community College or Jefferson State Community College. As Mayor, I would earmark funds for the “Fred Shuttlesworth Opportunity Scholarship” which would provide for debt free community college for every Birmingham Public School student that graduates and that wants to attend a Jefferson County community college.
Workforce readiness certifications for Birmingham Public School high school graduates. Birmingham’s economy will only go as far as its labor force will take it. City Hall and Birmingham Public Schools have to do more to ensure that every student that graduates from Birmingham Public Schools is college or career ready. As Mayor, I would work with my former colleagues on the Birmingham School Board to ensure that every Birmingham Public School student that chooses not to go to college or go into the military graduates with both a diploma and an Alabama Career Readiness Certificate.
Partnerships between Birmingham’s growing tech sector, UAB, and Birmingham Public School STEM programs and career academies to create a “school to startup pipeline.” Birmingham’s growing tech sector needs talent, and our students at our career academies need exposure to Birmingham’s innovative companies. As Mayor, my Division of Youth Services would partner with our career academies, UAB and our growing technology sector to create summer “school to startup pipeline” giving STEM and business exposure opportunities for high-achieving Birmingham Public School career academy juniors and seniors.
Supporting Birmingham’s Small Businesses. Birmingham’s small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy, and they should see City Hall as a partner and not a barrier to their business’ growth. Within my first 100 days, I would convene a Small Business Task Force of city agencies and Birmingham small businesses to develop a proposal that would automate all of the City processes to obtain licenses and permits, increase transparency in the permitting and procurement process, identify and repeal or reform any city regulations or processes that are unduly burdensome for Birmingham’s small businesses, and create a “one stop shop” and small business ombudsman within the Office of Economic Development for Birmingham’s small businesses that would offer free consultative sessions to small business owners on the City regulatory process.
Supporting Birmingham’s Innovators. Birmingham has a growing technology sector and some of the nation’s leading research universities, but we have to do more to ensure that the talent that our colleges and universities develop stays in Birmingham and supports our emerging technology industries. As Mayor, I would engage university partners to understand which factors students weigh as they decide to stay in or leave Birmingham after graduation and facilitate dialogue between university stakeholders and leaders in the business community to address gaps in the recruitment pipeline to ensure that City Hall is doing all that it can do to encourage more talent to stay and relocate to Birmingham. I would also I would identify potential tax incentives to create more shared work spaces and accelerators like the Innovation Depot.