Birmingham is a mid-sized city in the heart of one of the largest urban regions in the South. Healthcare, banking, insurance, distribution and a variety of service industries make up an economy that is excellent for business. The Birmingham Metropolitan Area stretches across Central Alabama, the center of the southeastern United States.
Five Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the area: Caremark, HealthSouth, Amsouth Bank, Regions Bank and SouthTrust Bank, making Birmingham number 12 among U.S. cities as a base for corporate headquarters. In its January 2000 issue, Expansion magazine listed Birmingham as the 4th hottest city for expansion. A 1999 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Cognetis, Inc. ranked the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa corridor as the nation’s 15th hottest metro area in the country for starting and growing a business.
In addition, the National Foundation for Women Business Owners ranks Alabama fourth among Southeastern states in the growth of women-owned businesses since 1992. A recent survey by the Small Business Survival Foundation ranks Alabama as the tenth best state in the nation for small business. A 1999 study by Policom Corporation, an independent economics research firm in Florida, ranked Birmingham 33 in a listing of 316 metropolitan areas rated for economic growth and stability.
Birmingham MSA Demographics
Comprised of four counties – Blount, Jefferson, St. Clair and Shelby – the Birmingham Metropolitan Area (MSA) anchors the business and cultural life of the State of Alabama.
Importance of Birmingham MSA to Alabama
21% of the Alabama state population
21% of the state households
23% of the business establishments
24% of the retail sales
24% of the total effective buying income
31% of the payroll dollars
Area citizens enjoy income levels at the national average and a cost of living that is consistently below the national average. According to 1999 Market Statistics, median household Effective Buying Income (income after taxes) ranges up to $72,410 in Mountain Brook, $67,951 in Inverness, $44,550 in Vestavia Hills, and $67,951 in Hoover. And, the State of Alabama’s per-capita state and local income tax burden is the nation’s lowest at 3.3 %.
With three of the nation’s top 50 banks headquartered in the city, Birmingham is the South’s number two banking center, second only to Charlotte, North Carolina – and one of the top 10 banking centers in the U.S. Birmingham’s four largest banks (AmSouth, Compass, Regions and SouthTrust) have combined assets of nearly $150 billion and flex their financial strengths across the South and Southwest from Colorado, Texas and South Florida to the Carolina coast and points between. And all four seem to be on the fast track for continued growth and expansion.
Distribution continues to be one of the regional economy’s major growth sectors, and Birmingham continues to be an attractive hub and headquarters site for distribution-intensive businesses.
According to an industrial market study by Birmingham’s Graham & Company, Inc., the multi-tenant warehouse market absorbed 505,000 square feet of space during 1998 and 119,000 in 1999. Office/warehouse absorbed 155,000 feet in 1998 and 6,000 in 1999.
In 2000, there are 10.4 million square feet of multi-tenant warehouse, distribution and service center space in the area. Occupancy rates stand at 94.6% for multi-tenant warehouse, 96.7% for bulk distribution, 89.7% for office/warehouse, and 94.1% for service centers. New facilities are being constructed, but the market continues to be tight for good locations, driving up rents.
A deliberate plan by business leaders to diversify the area’s economy away from its traditional dependence on iron and steel has been successful. Birmingham’s 36,392 businesses make it a center for finance, health care, education, manufacturing, research, engineering, transportation, construction, and distribution. The success of this diversification is seen in the per capita income: in 1970, workers in the Birmingham MSA earned 86% of the average U.S. per capita income; in 1997, Birmingham workers earned 99%.
In 1999, 11,900 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate averaged 2.8%, well below the Alabama rate of 4.4% and the U.S. rate of 4.2%. Service industries employed 82% of the work force with 9% of all Birmingham workers employed in health care. Manufacturing employed 11% of the work force and is concentrated in durable goods, especially primary metals.
Sixteen public school systems serve the four-county MSA. Some 150,000 students attend approximately 300 public and 50 private schools. There are 30 library systems in the area, including the Birmingham Public Library System, the largest system in the southeast with more than three million volumes and 19 branches. In the metro area, 73% of the population are high school graduates while 43% of the population has a post-high school education.
The Birmingham region has many excellent schools. The systems for the suburbs of Homewood, Hoover, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills all consistently score much higher than average on the Stanford Achievement Test, while the highest scoring individual school in the state was Christian Alternative School in the Birmingham Public School System. Newsweek crowned the Alabama School of Fine Arts, located in downtown Birmingham, as the 10th highest ranked school and Mountain Brook High School 99 out of 472 schools nationwide. The Alabama School of Fine Arts is one of the nation’s three state-supported secondary schools for students with special artistic gifts. Birmingham’s EPIC School, an alternative elementary school, brings gifted, normal and handicapped students together in a unique learning environment. The Shades Valley Learning Center, an alternative school in the Jefferson County system, and Hoover High School are the only schools in central Alabama that offer the International Baccalaureate diploma.
Higher education employs nearly 20,000 in the metropolitan area and generates an economic impact of more than $1 billion annually. Seven universities and collages, seven community/junior colleges, five degree-granting technical schools, three law schools, and the UAB medical, dental, and other specialized schools offer multiple educational opportunities to the area’s work force.
As the area’s largest employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham contributes to the economic impact of higher education with 15,833 employees, total annual budget of $1.1 billion and 15,850 students, UAB offers 140 undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Birmingham-Southern College has been cited by numerous national publications as the best among Southern liberal arts colleges and as one of the best buys in higher education. Stanford University, Alabama’s largest independent college, has also received national recognition as one of the most selective universities in America, and its Cumberland School of Law continuously ranks among the best.
Traditionally know as a center for medical care and research, the area’s 20 hospitals, with a total of more than 6,500 hospital beds, and other highly specialized health care facilities, reflects Birmingham’s status as an international medical center.
At the forefront is the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center. U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Hospitals” issue in 2000 ranked six programs at UAB. The magazine has also ranked the School of Medicine as one of the top 20 research-oriented medical schools in America.
UAB continues to be recognized as one of nation’s powerhouses in AIDS research. In 1999, UAB researchers discovered the origin of HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS. The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of 26 designated by the National Cancer Institute and is developing vaccines and gene therapies. UAB Hospital is among the top ten medical centers in the U.S. in the number of organ transplants performed, and its kidney transplant program is the largest in the world.
UAB recently broke ground on the largest projects in its history – a new $275 million hospital, which will include operating rooms ready for robotics surgery. The facility will vastly improve emergency services, surgery, imaging, and intensive and acute care units.
Other health care programs in Birmingham are also internationally recognized. The America Sports Medicine Institute, a part of HealthSouth Medical Center, attracts sports celebrities and royalty to Birmingham for highly specialized treatment.
HealthSouth Rehabilitation Corporation operates more than 1,000 rehabilitation and outpatient surgery centers nationwide and in Canada. To accommodate its tremendous growth, HealthSouth recently built a $50 million, 205,000 square feet headquarters complex in Birmingham.
Work will begin soon on a HealthSouth/Oracle joint venture: a high-technology hospital of the future – a prototype of computerized, technologically advanced healthcare that is scheduled to be constructed near HealthSouth headquarters.
The Medical Forum at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex is the world’s first trade mart dedicated to medical products and services and host numerous medical continuing education programs.
Visitors are drawn to the Birmingham metropolitan area by its medical centers, shopping, sports, growing numbers of tourist attractions, and of course, business.
At the end of 2000, the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau reported 130 hotel/motel properties, having 14,000 rooms, of which more than 2,000 have been added in the last two years. The average economy priced room rate is $62.00 per night. Tourism provides some 26,000 jobs, and tourists spend an estimated $920 million in the area annually.
A major downtown property, the Redmont Hotel, was recently purchased by Crown Plaza and is undergoing a $7 million renovation and reopened in 1995, and another downtown hotel, the historic Tutwiler Hotel, is undergoing a $2.7 million dollar renovation. The Sheraton Birmingham, connected to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, completed a $9.2 million, 25,000 square feet ballroom in 1998. The four-star Wynfrey Hotel at the Riverchase Galleria added 31,600 square feet of hotel rooms and meeting facilities in late 1999.
Several new properties have been developed in recent years, most being small, limited service hotels: Key West Inn (Irondale, 107 rooms), Jameson Inn (Bessemer, 60 rooms and Trussville, 40 rooms), and Comfort Inn Suites (Moody, 45 rooms), Courtyard by Marriott (Colonnade, 122 rooms), LaQuinta (Wildwood and Riverchase, 133 rooms), and Residence Inn (Wildwood, 120 rooms).
Regional and national conventions bringing up to 40,000 attendees each time, are hosted by the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which has recently expanded and connected to the 771 room Sheraton Birmingham, by far the largest hotel in Alabama. The expansion of the complex includes the world’s first Medical Forum, a new Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, new meeting rooms and 220,000 square feet of exhibition space. This is in addition to the 19,000-seat coliseum, 3,000-seat concert hall and 1,000 seat theater.
A multi-million dollar expansion is on the drawing boards with funding mechanisms still being investigated. Plans call for a new multi-purpose dome stadium and an entertainment district.
Visitors from all 50 states and 70 countries have come to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which averages 80,000 visitors a year. In a major city center revitalization project, two former downtown department stores have been renovated into a $50 million interactive science museum, parking and 300-seat IMAX theater. This is the McWane Center. And following a $17 million renovation in the late 1990s, the Birmingham Museum of Art is the largest city-owned art museum in the Southeast.
The 54-hole public golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones in the Oxmoor Valley is a magnet for golfing enthusiasts. And on the west side of Jefferson County is Visionland theme park.
Thirty-eight industrial parks serve the MSA, including one designated as a Foreign Trade Zone. The newest is Corridor West Business Park, located between downtown Birmingham and the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, with 200 total acres available.
The focus of major development currently is on Oxmoor, a 7,000-acre mixed-use park with a significant research component. A public and private partnership, Oxmoor is a research park attracting a variety of projects, including the new campus for Southern Research Technologies and the Southern Research Institute Engineering Research Center. John Carroll Catholic High School has a new campus, and the City of Birmingham plans to build an Education Development Center, a UAB-sponsored laboratory school for grades k-8. Sunbelt Golf, which operates the statewide Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, built its headquarters in Oxmoor, where is has a 54-hole public golf course.
Housing has come to Oxmoor valley with construction of the 520-unit Wildwood Crossing apartment complex and a multitude of single-family home developments. Recent construction includes an IRS office, the SouthTrust Bank Operations Center, an extension of Lakeshore Parkway through Oxmoor to connect to Interstate 459, the headquarters of the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders, UAB’s OADI Technology Center for incubating high tech start-up businesses, and many new hotels and extended-stay lodging facilities. Retail has continued to expand into the area with more than 500,000 square feet of tenant space.
International trade continues to expand Birmingham’s horizons. Today, more than 250 of its companies are actively exporting. These companies’ products reflect the diversity of Birmingham’s economy, including everything from traditional (fabricated steel and ductile iron pipe) to the cutting edge (medical equipment and pharmaceuticals) to the unusual (fishing lures and fire extinguishers). In 1999 alone, Birmingham companies exported more than $533 million to markets worldwide. And, Alabama’s largest exporter, Mercedes-Benz, is located in the area.
Throughout the region, several facilities promote Birmingham’s active participation in international commerce. Thanks to the Birmingham International Airport, Birmingham is literally one stop from anywhere in the world. The airport also houses a U.S. Customs Port of Entry, an office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and three cargo carriers. Nearby, a broad selection of professional freight forwarders and custom-house brokers further aid the worldwide transpiration of goods.
The city’s several Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs) also enhance Birmingham’s international potential. These sites vary in size from the 116 acres at the Birmingham International Airport to the 10 acres at a bonded, full-service warehousing company. Birmingham’s FTZ also includes three Special Purpose Manufacturing Subzones for Mercedes-Benz. AF Industries and JVC America. This program encourages international trade by delaying the payments of duties on imported goods until they are shipped for U.S. consumption. No duty is paid on re-exported products.
Birmingham’s largest private employers confirm the economic diversification of the area. Three major employers-American Cast Iron Pipe Company, Alabama Gas and BE&K-were included in the 1997 edition of Fortune magazine’s The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.
2000 Top Ten Private Employers
BellSouth – 6,300
Baptist Health System – 6,000
Bruno’s, Inc. – 5,374
Wal Mart – 3,800
AmSouth Bank – 3,094
Alabama Power – 3,000
Blue Cross-Blue Shield – 2,700
Compass Bank – 2,666
American Cast Iron Pipe Co. – 2,3000
The University of Alabama at Birmingham became the top employer in the four-county area during the 1980s. UAB now employs more than 15,000 and its payroll pumps more than $607 million annually into the area’s economy. UAB is also the single largest employer in the state. Various other government entities are the next largest area employers, as shown below.
2000 Largest Government Employers
UAB – 15,625
United States Government – 9,302
Jefferson County and Board of Education – 9,191
City of Birmingham and Birmingham Board of Education – 9,055
State of Alabama – 6,372
American Honda Motor Company announced in 2000 that it would build a $400 million vehicle assembly and engine plant in Talladega County, just 30 miles east of Birmingham. The company will produce 12,000 vehicles and engines annually and employ at least 1,500 at the operation.
Also in 2000, Mercedes-Benz U.S. announced plans to double its Vance, Alabama, production site located just 30 miles west of Birmingham. The $600 million project will add 2,000 jobs at Mercedes’ operations and double its production capability to 160,000 vehicles a year. Six suppliers to Mercedes have located plants in central Alabama, all within an hour’s drive of Birmingham. In 1997, Ogihara American began operating out of a $70 million, 280,000 square feet plant in the City of Birmingham, employing more than 226 workers making body panels. Ogihara has recently undergone a $10 million expansion, hiring an additional 130 workers.
In 1999, the area’s 1,200 manufactures employed 51,483 workers. Contributing to this increase were 88 new and expanding industries providing 8,600 new jobs and capital investment of $153.1 million. Eight new manufacturers moved into the area, bringing 355 jobs and a $45 million capital investment. The area absorbed 1.8 million square feet of free-standing industrial building space, achieving a 95% occupancy rate for the total 95 million square feet of industrial buildings.
Cast iron pipe and other foundry operations continue to flourish in the area, led by American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO), the largest plant of its type under one roof in the world, and U.S. Pipe (Jim Walter Corp.). More than half of the cast iron pipe manufactured in the U.S. is produced in Birmingham, which is also a center for wrought iron furniture production. Amerex Corporation is the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial and commercial fire extinguishers. The company has been marketing internationally since 1975.
Birmingham’s multitude of manufacturers produce fabricated metal products, paint, apparel, electronics, chemical, office furniture, containers, paper products, truck bodies, plastics, processed food products, air craft components, machinery, aerial lift equipment, pet food, building products and fire extinguishers.
The City of Birmingham administers a 10,000 acre state enterprise zone, which includes many industrial areas.
The hallmark of the Birmingham office market is that supply maintains pace with demand. The market consists of more than 16 million square feet of single and multi-tenant office space, 9 million square feet of multi-tenant industrial space and 18 million square feet of retail space. Since 1992, the regional office market has grown by more than 2.5 million square feet.
In the City Center, the 150,000 square feet, eleven-story Concord Center is the first multi-tenant Class A office tower to be constructed in over a decade.
At the site of the old Federal Reserve Building, the 310,000 square foot One Federal Place is rising to meet the demands of a growing economy. Sloss Real Estate Group and Barry Real Estate Companies of Atlanta are developing the project, which includes the restoration and renovation of the old Federal Reserve Building.
Also downtown, Energen completed its $25 million seven-story, 130,000 square foot headquarters in 1999 and the historic John Hand Building was redeveloped into seven floors of commercial office space, and twelve floors of upscale loft apartments and condominiums.
According to the Wilhelm Report, the area’s overall multi-tenant occupancy rate has increased to 90.6%. Occupancy stands at 91.5% in first class buildings, and dozens of newer suburban and downtown building report 100% occupancy. Rental rates range from $5.50 to $23.50/sq. ft. area wide, with first class office space renting from $13.50 to $23.50/sq. ft.
Birmingham’s temperate climate and natural beauty make it a great place to live and work.
Sports fans will enjoy plenty to be excited about in the region. The UAB Blazers football team, which moved to Division 1A in 1996, plays its home games at Legion Field. Additionally, the University of Alabama plays three of its home games at Legion Field, which is also home to the annual Magic City Classic between Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The Steeldogs play arena football in the spring and summer.
The Birmingham Barons, the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, play at the Hoover Met, a 12,000 seat baseball stadium in the Trace Crossings development of Hoover. One of the nicest minor league parks in America, the Met also hosts special events.
East of I-20 lies the Talladega Super Speedway which draws more than 200,000 people to the metro area twice each year for Winston Cup races that continue to grow in popularity. Tickets to these races are sold in each state and many foreign countries.
Year-round gold is the area’s most popular sport. The Robert Trent Jones 54-hole public golf course is one of many excellent public and private courses in the area. The Bruno’s Memorial Classic annually brings the PGA Seniors Tour to Birmingham to play before 150,000 spectators at Greystone.
Outstanding collegiate sports include the Birmingham-Southern College basketball team, Samford University’s football and basketball programs, and UAB’s Blazers, fielding teams in all major collegiate sports.
The city also boasts a full range of cultural amenities. City Stages, with 150,000 people attending three days of music on downtown streets, leads an outstanding selection of festivals, including the Heritage Festival, and the International Festival. The new Jazz Hall of Fame in the old Carver Theater keeps Birmingham’s jazz heritage alive, while the grand old Alabama Theater, a restored movie palace, hosts classic movies and plays. For those whose taste run to the more classical arts, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra performs at the BJCC and the Alys Stephens Center, a 1,400 seat, state-of-the-art concert hall located on the campus of UAB. The BJCC is home to the Alabama Ballet, a nationally recognized Children’s Theater, and touring productions. A 1997 study revealed that the arts contribute $48.8 million to Birmingham’s economy and provide 1,274 jobs.
The outstanding natural beauty of the Birmingham region makes outdoor activities particularly inviting. The area features numerous lakes for boating and fishing and large, mountainous wilderness areas for hiking and camping. The largest Alabama state park, Oak Mountain, just fifteen minutes from downtown, contains a public golf course, beach and elevated nature trail. Adding to the region’s livability is its close proximity to sugar-white Gulf Coast beaches and Smoky Mountain snow skiing, which can be reached in a morning’s drive.
With a temperate climate, a growing population, economic stability, low cost of living, and a high quality of life, Birmingham will continue to be one of the best metropolitan areas in the South in which to live and do business.
Birmingham was founded at the crossing of two railroads and has been a vital transportation hub ever since. Located within a 500 mile drive to almost 70% of the U.S. metropolitan population, the area boasts four interstate railroads, more than 100 truck lines, five air cargo companies, and seven barge lines. The excellent highway system includes Interstates 20, 59, 65 and 459 along with U.S. Highways 11, 31, 78 and 280.
The Birmingham International Airport continues to be a valuable asset to the Birmingham region and the State of Alabama. The airport handles more flights and air travelers than all of the other airports in the state combined. During 1999, more than 3 million people traveled through the airport. Six major airlines and four regional carriers offer nonstop or direct service to and from approximately 75 cities on 160 daily flights. The diversity of airline service has paid off in fares that are lower than those of larger Southern airports (an estimated 10% of BIA’s passengers drive from Atlanta or Chattanooga to access lower rates).
Birmingham International Airport has joined the list of major air cargo facilities in the U.S. Birmingham’s location provides ideal access to not only the Southeast, but also Midwest, Eastern Seaboard, and the Caribbean basin. Nearly 50,000 tons of air cargo were handled in 1999, and the volume continues to increase. The airport’s air cargo and transient facility features a modern eight-bay cargo building for quick and easy access to the Interstate Highway system.
Rail, Trucking and Shipping
The region is known for its excellent truck and rail services, and also as a major distribution center with a broad selection of professional freight forwarders, custom brokers, and a U.S. Customs Office located at the airport. The area is served by four interstate rail carriers, more than any other Southeastern city, and a local switching railroad. Two of the carriers provide inter-modal facilities.
Goods are generally free of switching charges. Birmingham is the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe and Burlington Northern Railroads; thus, goods can be shipped virtually coast to coast through Birmingham without off loading. Amtrak provides rail passenger service on the Southern Crescent (New York – New Orleans).
Port Birmingham, with seven barge lines, is the largest inland shipping center of general commodities of the Tennesse-Warrior-Tombigbee river systems. The port provides access north to mid-America through nearly 16,000 miles of inland waterways and south to the rest of the world through the Alabama Seaport.