Sunday, December 26, 2010

You are Beautiful Birmingham

Birmingham Metro must change the focus from ME to WE.  Fragmented geopolitical segmentation of the Birmingham Metropolitan (Metro) will continue to produce squabble.  History of the area guarantees this is the most likely outcome.  The basis of the separation is a lack of trust: centuries of dishonesty between races and political factions created barriers more real than municipal lines.  Birmingham Metro is composed of varying entities representing a balance of power, which is proven to fail all parties.  We should build a larger ideal; we are on the same team; we are Birmingham; you are Birmingham.

Who are you competing against?

Birmingham city is not competing against Hoover.  Mountain Brook is not competing against Vestavia.  Hoover is not competing against Birmingham city.  Consider the Southeastern Conference: teams share half of their bowl payouts with the conference.   The conference collectively bargains for TV viewing rights.  The SEC separates their competition on the field as being the product, and the cooperation off the field as their livelihood.  It is in Alabama’s best interest to have a strong Auburn (and vis-à-vis).  It is in Birmingham’s best interest to have a strong Hoover.  It is in Mountain Brook’s best interest to have a strong Birmingham.  Our competition is Nashville, Atlanta, Indy, and Austin, not each other.

In a Leadership and Creativity class lead by the late Dr. Paul Preston at Montevallo, we performed an exercise on negotiation and cooperation: in groups of two, we were told to negotiate with counterparty for the best price on oranges.  Our primary goal was for the best price, but hidden within our instructions were our needs: one needed the juice and the other needed the rind.   The counterparties could only discover potential cooperation with discussion and showing their cards.  Elements of vulnerability were required for the greatest outcome.  Of the 20 counterparty pairs, only one group found the differing needs – therefore, the best outcome is elusive, requires vulnerability, and creativity.

Education in Birmingham

In Birmingham, the “third rail” is education.  It will provide the power for change, yet will be divisive.  I consider each school system in Birmingham to be a private system.   My reasoning: school performance is directly associated with per-capita income from the surrounding tax base.   Instead of directly paying tuition, individuals purchase land within the tax base, then pay the tuition (i.e. property tax), or create a education foundation (which should be dissolved).  I know the caveats around my thought: each system has decided their emphasis and allocation of resources.  It remains:  people with children purchase land associated with school systems; the land represents a share in a school system just as a shareholder purchases shares in corporation.

Whether you agree with my Private School Theory, you have to agree it is in each municipality’s best interest to have smarter people in neighboring areas.  Certain areas of Birmingham have core competencies in education.  Certain areas have created vicious cycles.   For business, for the future, it is in each person’s best interest to have better education systems.  Mountain Brook, Hoover, and Vestavia need to exploit their core competencies in education and bring up the City system.  The City system needs to understand its misallocation of resources, and accept guidance from those better at performing the task.

Because each city in Birmingham has the right to manage resources differently, we can think of them as different economies.  Each city has differing cash flows, similar to countries.  Birmingham is a net importer: it pays for experienced human resources to come into the city.  Mountain Brooke and Vestavia are net exporters: they provide experienced human resources to other areas.   Viewing cash flows this way, the Birmingham occupational tax is a tariff on importing human resources.   Birmingham has to import because its school system is deficient.  Yet, the core competency for Birmingham city is business.

Each part of Metro Birmingham has a core competency, which if explored like juice and rind would make the whole work better.   It will take vulnerability, creativity, and breaking down the history of mistrust.  You are Birmingham.

We need to begin building our educational, business, and government infrastructure to ensure we are on par in the future.