Birmingham’s largest economic development organization, the Birmingham Business Alliance, has a new leader. Kenneth Coleman starts Monday as the organization’s president and CEO. He is also the Black American to serve in that position. Coleman most recently led the Chamber of Commerce for DeKalb County in Georgia. He spoke with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager.
How to maintain economic development during the coronavirus pandemic:
First and foremost, you have to do what you can to help make sure existing businesses are able to operate safely for their employees and customers. That is working with local entities on systems to help make sure businesses have availability of short-term capital [and] make sure that businesses have access to personal protective equipment. Two, you continue to do your longer-term marketing. Making sure the world, particularly the economic development community, site consultants and such, still recognize that Birmingham is open for business.
How the BBA can respond to protests over racial injustice:
I think business as a whole has an opportunity to really make a difference, and I think our Birmingham Business Alliance is primed to be the catalyst to help make sure that happens. So you think about businesses in and around Birmingham. They have the opportunity with their hiring practices, with their cultures that they build respectively within their organizations, with their supplier networks, to really influence and impact some of the challenges that many Black and brown people feel. I think our role is to help bring opportunities for our businesses to light. I think it is to tell the stories, because we’ve got many of our businesses that have been in this fight well before the George Floyd killing. And then to figure out what partnerships we can come together to help make a difference.
Addressing Birmingham’s low rate of Black-owned businesses:
What I think we will do more of will be to help to facilitate entrepreneurship. Some of that is education and training. Some of that is building blocks for current small business to help them be even better at things like social media, things like finance and marketing. That is something that we had not spent as much time on, candidly, in the last few years that we want to spend more on going forward. That’s helping our local businesses at what they currently do. We think that will facilitate spinoffs, growth and expansions in those businesses, as well to help create more minority-owned businesses in the community.
What to expect in the BBA’s next strategic plan:
We’re going to make sure that we are leading in job creation and retention and recruitment. So there’ll be tons of initiatives to be much more proactive, much more strategic in who and how we recruit. Really leveraging the life sciences and the advanced manufacturing and information technology capabilities and companies that we already have in the region. What we’ve discovered is there are some operational services across the region, things like research and project management, that can really help not only Birmingham but the six other counties outside of Jefferson that we serve be better at economic development, recruitment and targeting. At the end of the day, I think we want BBA to be in the middle of most things good in and around Birmingham, especially as it relates to business and job growth.
Coleman played for the Birmingham Barons. Hear his thoughts about playing alongside Michael Jordan during the 1994 season.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.