Birmingham leaders came together at the Innovation Depot on December 10 and echoed a common commitment, “we want to be the nation’s leaders in inclusive economic development.” Increasing equity and digital empowerment are themes commonly heard when speaking with city officials; but my hunch is that this group of passionate, resourceful and motivated people will be some of the first to truly move words to action.
Featured presenters included Mashonda Taylor, Chief Community Relations Officer, Woodlawn Foundation; Dr. Anthony Hood, Director of Civic Innovation, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Yuval Yossefy, Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, City of Birmingham; Deon Gordon, CEO, TechBirmingham; and George Stegall, Connectivity Manager, Alabama Power Company.
It is precisely this level of collaboration that inspires attention towards the Southern city. Realizing the power of public-private partnerships, there is clear alignment between the City of Birmingham, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and Alabama Power. From this position of strength, they welcome community advocates, entrepreneurs and innovators to address the city’s pathway to digital modernization.
The team acknowledges and is actively pursuing smart technologies that can advance the economy, enable their workforce, create safer, more equitable communities, and improve government services for the local 99 neighborhoods and 23 communities. The group, which often gets together to address a cross section of issues, also has a system to address the challenges. “We start with specific projects, we address the policy areas, and we focus on demonstrating value.”
Yuval Yossefy described the work between the City of Birmingham and UAB to use data to identify job hubs to influence city planning: “we are working to provide data driven solutions for those within and outside city hall to help make informed decisions. The Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity serves as a catalyst to bring together groups across the public and private sector.”
Mashonda Taylor echoed the end goals: “we are here to solve problems for and with our community by using real time data as well as trends month over month, year over year.”
Workforce development – current and future – is a key focus area. The city’s strategy is to create an attractive community that both attracts and retains innovators.
“We have a relentless focus on building diverse talent among our community,” said Yoseffy.
Deon Gordon spoke about his organization’s efforts to prepare the next generation: “we work to make sure we are growing our economic base and opportunity in the Birmingham community with a specific focus on K-12 education. We launched Birmingham to Code as a boot camp where we provided free coding teaching to middle and high school kids.”
This doesn’t stop at the college level. Dr. Hood mentioned, “UAB’s role is a talent development factory and want to make sure our students are ready for the jobs of tomorrow, not just the jobs of today.” He acknowledged that ”technology is disruptive and it will change how we work in the future.”
You can see some of the results of these partnerships by looking at the success of the Innovation Depot, which ran four programs in 2017 to incubate, accelerate, educate and collaborate with more than 112 member companies attracting more than $2.5 billion. They list a broad base of public and private supporters including UAB and Alabama Power.
Stegall, with Alabama Power, supported the stance noting his company’s supportive role: “Smart City solutions will come from boots on the ground like city managers and public utilities who understand and work with infrastructure every day. We all need to ensure that residents are seeing the benefits of smart cities, it’s not enough to build it without.”