“Opportunity” the Key Word for Birmingham’s New Economic Development Director

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Birmingham’s received a lot of accolades the last few years for an up-and-coming downtown and thriving cultural scene. But a closer look at the economic data shows a different picture. The Birmingham metro area’s net job growth has been virtually flat since 2000 and it’s behind many peer cities on important indicators. Josh Carpenter is tasked with doing something about that.

Carpenter started last week as the new economic development director for the City of Birmingham. He’s the former director of external relations at UAB but still teaches economics there. Carpenter is a Rhodes Scholar and taught with Teach for America in Perry County.

He spoke with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager.

 

Interview Highlights

On fulfilling Mayor Randall Woodfin’s campaign promise to bring growth to neighborhoods while also supporting a downtown stadium:

“One of the things that I would say about the stadium in particular is that it’s not just a downtown investment. It will influence the neighborhoods of Norwood and Fountain Heights and creat jobs for the citizens there. I truly believe fundamentally that an inclusive economy is a sustainable economy over time. We want to think through how we can go out into our communities where small businesses aren’t just economically important, but they’re also the fabric of our communities. They’re the pride of our neighborhoods. They’re the gathering places for our families. And so we want to listen to them. We want to give them a seat at the table. So there’ll be a small business council that I plan on listening to.”

 

On the need for an educated workforce despite the mayor not controlling schools:

“There’s a forthcoming report that was funded by a lot of community leaders all focused on what a forward-looking workforce needs … And what I think it will do is catalyze the way that our 2-year college system, our 4-year college system and our primary and secondary systems are working together. And so we hope to work with not only those education stakeholders, but also the private sector.

“The mayor obviously has close ties to the school system because he was on the school board. He and the superintendent and several school board members are focused on eliminating the barriers that have existed in our workforce pipeline. So we think that those connections, whether it’s creating jobs for students in the summer, which is a huge priority for him, or adjusting curriculum [such as a computer science program]. Those are the types of innovations that we’re going to have to scale up and scale out.” 

 

On the pressure to land big projects:

“I would push back on the fact that my role is to generate headlines. I think my role is to generate opportunity. I think that’s opportunity for small businesses to grow and thrive. I think that’s creating opportunity for our startups, opportunities for people to obtain quality work. It’s obviously really important to make sure we have a great relationship with the corporate community and grow big businesses. But I think sometimes lost in the ribbon cuttings is the fact that the bulk of the jobs that we grow here aren’t with ribbon cuttings. Our job really is as a government to focus on creating the opportunity for people to become empowered. That really is my focus.”

Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager

Host/Reporter