Major Industries and Commercial Activity
For many years Birmingham was a one-industry town, dependent on the iron and steel industry. Today, though, Birmingham's economy relies more heavily on the medical industry as well as trade, finance, research and government. The major industrial investments in Birmingham have been in automotive components manufacturing and distribution, machinery, and the metals industries. At the base of the expanding telecommunications industry is one of two regional corporate headquarters of BellSouth Telephone Company. Birmingham is headquarters for the engineering and technical services of several power companies, including Alabama Power Company, ENERGEN Corporation, and SONAT. Metro Birmingham is a leading retail and wholesale trade center for Alabama and parts of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. According to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, projections for the fastest-growing occupations in Birmingham through 2012 include jobs in medical services. A mecca for health care and medical research, Birmingham boasts the University of Alabama Medical Center, known throughout the world for its research on the treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, AIDS, and arthritis. Birmingham's Southern Research Institute, the largest nonprofit independent research laboratory in the southeast, has gained national prominence.
With a plethora of Birmingham businesses working in international trade and warehousing and with the city's nearby waterways, Birmingham is a major distribution center. The city's proximity to the Warrior-Tombigbee River System, which connects to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, enables Birmingham to be a major shipper of general commodities. Birmingham has also experienced significant growth as a transportation hub because of its central southeast location, and the fact that it is served by eight airlines, five air cargo services, approximately 100 truck lines, four railroads, and more than ten barge lines. Multimillion-dollar runway and cargo facility expansions at Birmingham International Airport took place in 2004 as part of the city's efforts to encourage further growth in the transportation and distribution industries.
Items and goods produced: cast iron pipe, transportation equipment (automotive, rail, and aircraft equipment), fabricated metal products, electronics, plastic products, office furniture, containers, paper products, and fire extinguishers
Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies
The City of Birmingham Office of Economic Development (OED) provides a wide variety of federal, state and locally-sponsored programs and activities, including financial assistance, employment and training, business assistance and retention programs, and site specific targeted economic development initiatives.
The Birmingham Business Resource Center (BBRC) is a one-stop center for small business finance and related technical assistance. BBRC is sponsored by the City of Birmingham and area banks. It brings together in one location a number of small business loan programs previously offered by the Office of Economic Development and area banks.
Alabama boasts a progressive state business environment as demonstrated by its comprehensive right-to-work laws, one-stop environmental permitting, and a positive state and local government attitude toward new and expanding business. Tax rates are competitive; for example, employers who provide or sponsor an approved basic skills education program qualify to receive a 20 percent credit on state corporate income tax liability. The Alabama Enterprise Zone Program helps attract new business to Alabama with tax breaks to those operating in the designated 10,000-acre industrial area. Information about these incentives is available through the Alabama Development Office.
Job training programs
In April 2001 Jefferson State Community College unveiled its new manufacturing center, where students learn vocational skills including industrial maintenance, automation, computer aided drafting and drawing, machining and telecommunications. The manufacturing program's goal is to train workers who can be productive as soon as they are hired. Rather than instruct students by theory, the school asked area manufacturers to detail their needs. Top business executives in Alabama applaud the state's Industrial Development Training Program, which does everything from advertising, to processing job applications, to training and delivering employees.
After considerable renovations in 2000, the upgraded Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center opened as the newly named Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The upgraded complex hosts a variety of events in its many venues, which include the ample exhibition hall and meeting rooms, a 19,000 seat sports and performance arena, a theater and an adjoining hotel. Developers and city agencies are looking toward major revitalization efforts in downtown Birmingham. The city's skyline changed when work was completed in 2002 on the $27 million, 11-story Concord Center office building, the first new multi-tenant office building downtown in 11 years. Operation New Birmingham (ONB), a non-profit organization, is supported by the City of Birmingham and by contributions from businesses, individuals and Jefferson county, works with developers to revitalize the downtown business district. Among ONB's projects are renovations, completed in 2004, of several downtown buildings into retail and loft space. In 2005, plans include a $34 million new construction that will house the Birmingham District of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The Park Place/Metropolitan Gardens Redevelopment will replace a deteriorating low-income housing project with 663 mixed-housing units in a six-block community. The city's largest planned downtown residential project, the Railroad Reservation Lofts, is a $22 million, nine-story structure that is slated for completion in 2007. The planned project will offer commercial space, apartments and condominiums.
In private developments, so many auto-related companies have located in greater Birmingham that residents call the area "little Detroit." A half hour southwest of Birmingham, in the tiny town of Vance in Tuscaloosa County, a new road called Mercedes Drive leads to the first Mercedes-Benz (a division of Daimler-Chrysler) auto plant ever built in North America. The Mercedes-Benz Vance plant, built in 1993, is also the first Mercedes-Benz passenger-car assembly plant outside Germany. Alabama offered $80 million in incentives to entice Mercedes-Benz to set up shop in the state; by 2000 Mercedes had invested $380 million in Alabama. In 2001 Mercedes-Benz began construction on a $600 million expansion that is estimated to double production, with an expected completion date of 2005. State investments in auto production have led several auto service production plants to open shop in other areas of the state, namely Hyundai in Montgomery and Honda in Lincoln.
In other private developments, one of downtown Birmingham's largest and most conspicuous vacant building received a $30 million face-lift from Bayer Properties, which finished conversion in 2003 of the eight-story 1908 Pizitz department store building to Class A office space with a ground-floor retail component. In 2002, American Cast Iron Pipe Co. (ACIPCO) prepared for stricter pollution regulations with an $80 million expansion at its North Birmingham plant. The company added 61,000 square feet of space to add a state-of-the-art, electrically-fired furnace.
There is also plenty of activity going on at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). In 1998, Alabama health officials endorsed a 5-year, $578 million expansion of UAB's University Hospital complex. In late 2004, the new 885,000 square foot, 11-story hospital opened with 37 operating suites, 4 intensive care units, 96 private patient rooms and an emergency unit the size of a football field. In April 2002, UAB broke ground on a new 300,000-square-foot, 12-story Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building, which will house four distinct research programs. Due to be completed in 2005, the new facility is expected to generate $100 million in annual grants and employ 1,400 people. Oxmoor Valley research park was created by a partnership of UAB and the city of Birmingham, and houses the university's Office for the Advancement of Developing Industries Technology Center (OADI). Since UAB became an autonomous campus, it has spent about $800 million on new construction and has built about 100 buildings in an 82-block area.
Economic Development Information: City of Birmingham Office of Economic Development, 710 20th Street North, Birmingham, AL 35203; telephone (205)254-2799; fax (205)254-7741; email [email protected] BBRC, 110 12th Street North, Birmingham, AL 35203; telephone (205)250-6380; fax (205)250-6384; email [email protected] Alabama Development Office, Neal Wade, Director, 401 Adams Avenue, Suite 670, Montgomery, AL 36130-4106; telephone (800)248-0033; email [email protected] Alabama Department Of Industrial Relations, Phyllis Kennedy, Director, 649 Monroe Street, Montgomery, AL 36131; telephone (334)242-8859; fax (334)242-2543; email [email protected] Operation New Birmingham, 505 20th Street North, Suite 150, Birmingham, AL, 35203; telephone (205)324-8797; fax (205)324-8799.
Born at the junction of two railroads, and always an important transportation center, Birmingham today is served by an outstanding network of highways, extensive rail track, aircargo facilities, and nearby navigable waterways. The CSX and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad systems haul freight to and from the metropolitan area, where a multimodal system is located. More than 100 truck lines, many with nationwide service, and five air-cargo firms move goods and products for Birmingham companies. Birmingham's Airport Industrial Park is designated as a Foreign Trade Zone, a major asset in attracting additional business to the area. General commodities are transported economically on barges along the nearby Warrior-Tombigbee River System and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to other inland cities and through the Port of Mobile to foreign countries.
Labor Force and Employment Outlook
Birmingham's transformed economy is now less dependent on cyclical manufacturing and mining sectors and more on health and financial services. Birmingham is the state's center for advanced technology and there are more engineers per capita living in the local area than in any other southeastern city.
Birmingham, like other Alabama cities, enjoys a good reputation in Asia. Local analysts predict that the region will continue to be a magnet for overseas capital.
The following is a summary of data regarding the Birmingham metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.
Size of nonagricultural labor force: 474,500
Number of workers employed in . . .
construction and mining: 32,300
trade, transportation and utilities: 102,200
financial activities: 39,100
professional and business services: 59,700
educational and health services: 54,400
leisure and hospitality: 37,200
other services: 23,100
Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $14.56
Unemployment rate: 4.6% (October 2004)
|Largest county employers||Number of employees|
|University of Alabama at Birmingham||16,271|
|State of Alabama||6,784|
|Baptist Health Systems||6,000|
|Jefferson County Board of Education||5,000|
|Birmingham Public Schools||4,555|
|City of Birmingham||4,500|
|Jefferson County Government||4,191|
Cost of Living
Birmingham's cost of living, as well as its housing prices, are slightly below the national average.
The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Birmingham area.
2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: not reported (U.S. average = 100.0)
2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: not reported
State income tax rate: Ranges from 2.0% to 5.0%
State sales tax rate: 4.0%
Local income tax rate: 1.00% (occupational)
Local sales tax rate: 6.0 to 9.0%
Property tax rate: $18.70 per $1,000 assessed value (2004)
Economic Information: Metropolitan Development Board, 2027 First Avenue North, Suite 1300, Birmingham, AL 35203; telephone (205)328-3047; fax (205)328-3073. Office of Economic Development, City of Birmingham, 710 North 20th Street, Birmingham, AL 35203; telephone (205)254-2799. State of Alabama, Department of Industrial Relations, 649 Monroe Street, Montgomery, AL 36131
Visitors to Birmingham will enjoy the variety of parks throughout the city, including the 90-acre Highland Park with its modern sports complex and golf course; Roebuck Park, known for its beautiful golf course and wooded grounds; Avondale, with an amphitheater, duck pond, and formal rose garden; East Lake, with more than 50 acres of fresh water; and Magnolia, known for its flowing fountains. Birmingham's Vulcan Park features a towering statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and the forge, the city's symbol. Said to be the largest iron figure ever cast, it rises 55 feet above its pedestal to reach a total of 179 feet. This monument, a tribute to the iron industry in Birmingham, is unique in that it honors an industry rather than a person or event. A glass enclosed elevator takes visitors to the statue's climate controlled observation deck for an aerial view of the city.
One of the largest zoos in the Southeast, the Birmingham Zoo exhibits mammals, birds, and reptiles in near-natural surroundings within a 100-acre compound. Rare species such as Siberian tigers, white rhinoceroses, gorillas, and polar bears join exhibits of specimens from nations around the globe. The Social Animals Building is the latest example of a leading-edge zoo concept that groups animals in exhibits according to lifestyle characteristics rather than species. In 2005, the zoo will celebrate its 50th year with the addition of a $15 million exhibit devoted to the urban, rural and wild animals and environment of Alabama. Across the street from the zoo are Birmingham's internationally known Botanical Gardens, which offer the visitor both indoor and outdoor plant displays of common and rare plants. Among its more than 67 acres of flowers and plants from all over the world are an authentic Japanese garden and a rose garden featuring more than two thousand blooming plants.
Birmingham's early history is preserved at the Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens, a Greek Revival mansion built between 1845 and 1850, now restored to its original splendor and filled with period pieces. The home also hosts craft demonstrations and a variety of social functions.
At Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, a 1,000-acre nature preserve just five miles from the heart of the city center, 11 miles of hiking trails allow visitors to explore the nation's largest urban wilderness. The environmental education center offers a variety of changing exhibits and a gift shop. Free admission and free and fee-based programs are available for all ages. Thirty minutes south of the city, Oak Mountain State Park is Alabama's largest state park and offers 10,000 acres of mountains, forest land and lakes with space for camping, hiking biking, fishing and horseback riding.
Arts and Culture
Birmingham is fast becoming a leading center for the arts in the Southeast, providing superb facilities, emphasizing arts education, and showcasing numerous performances and exhibits. The pride of Birmingham is the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, which occupies a seven-square-block area in the heart of the city. Presenting more than 600 events a year, the complex hosts meetings, conventions, sporting events, ballets, operas, plays, concerts, shows, and lectures. The complex's concert hall, called one of the finest facilities in the world, seats 3,000 people in an acoustically superior auditorium. Its theater seats more than 1,000 people and features a stage that can change from a proscenium opening to three other forms, depending on the performance. The theater plays host to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, which showcases both classical and pops performances. For young people interested in drama, the Birmingham Children's Theatre, which performs at the theater, has gained a national reputation.
The non-profit Birmingham Music Cooperative is comprised of four member organizations and is dedicated to scheduling, fundraising, education, community outreach and marketing efforts on behalf of its members, who include: the Birmingham Art Music Alliance, which features new music by local composers, community members, students and professionals; the Birmingham Chamber Music Society, which performs in and around Birmingham; the Birmingham Music Club, which offers specialty performances by world-class performers and a strong outreach program; and Opera Birmingham, which stages full operas and recitals. The Birmingham Metropolitan Orchestra made its debut in 1996.
Birmingham is home to the Alabama Ballet, which performs on tour and in the city. The Alabama School of Fine Arts is famous for the quality of its young dancers. Southern Danceworks operates as Alabama's only modern dance company. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Birmingham Festival Theatre, and the Terrific New Theatre (TNT) also stage dramatic offerings. The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame has a permanent home downtown in the Art Deco Carver Theatre and jazz is also performed by the Birmingham Heritage Band. The Alabama Theatre, a restored 1920s movie palace with a classic Wurlitzer organ, features concerts, plays, and recitals.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham hosts many cultural events; the city expanded its offerings in 1997 when the $17 million Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center opened its doors. That facility is part of a complex that includes a recital hall, a "black box" theater for student productions, and the Sirote Theater, where performances of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival are scheduled.
Birmingham's museums and galleries reflect its history, as well as the diverse interests of its residents. Located in the expanded Convention Complex, The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Museum displays a host of articles relating to the sports history of the state, including plaques, trophies, uniforms, recordings, and films. Memorabilia such as Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's cap and Pat Sullivan's Heisman trophy are housed in the museum.
The Birmingham Museum of Art celebrated a 50-year anniversary in 2001 and holds a collection of 21,000 works of art. Said to be the largest municipally supported museum in the South, the Museum features paintings and sculptures from many cultures and periods, including Pre-Colombian, Indian, and African. It is also noted for its collections of Wedgwood ceramics, Remington bronzes, and Oriental Art. The BMA completed a $17 million renovation in 1992; additions included a sculpture garden, 7,000 more feet of gallery space, a 350-seat auditorium, and a restaurant.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute houses exhibits that depict historical events pertaining to race relations from post-World War I to the present. The institute promotes research and discussion through its education program services. It was constructed across from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where it is the focal point of a Civil Rights District that includes the church, an African American commercial neighborhood, the Fourth Avenue Business District, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and Kelly Ingram Park, site of many 1960s civil rights marches.
Among Birmingham's other museums are the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences, which contains items relating to the history of medicine; the Southern Museum of Flight, whose holdings include replicas of monoplanes and other items relating to the history of flight in Alabama; Meyer Planetarium, which gives programs on the stars and constellations; Bessemer Hall of History, which displays pioneer items, fossils, Civil War artifacts, and other unusual exhibits such as Adolph Hitler's typewriter; and the Sloss Furnaces National Historical Landmark, a combination museum and park where visitors can examine two blast furnaces and observe iron-making technology. The McWane Center in downtown Birmingham promotes scientific exploration for all ages. The 180,000 square foot Center features an IMAX Dome Theater, hands-on exhibits, educational programming and permanent and traveling exhibits.
Festivals and Holidays
Each April, the world-famous Birmingham International Festival, Birmingham's largest festival, salutes a different foreign country. During three days of activities devoted to film, dance, sculpture, music, fashion, food, and fun, more than 250,000 people attend events sponsored by civic organizations, schools, churches, museums, and ethnic groups. The International Festival runs in conjunction with the city's annual Magic City Art Connection, featuring more than 200 juried art exhibitors. Also in spring, the Birmingham International Educational Film Festival features outstanding educational films. June's City Stages Festival fills Linn Park with three days of performances by more than fifty top jazz, blues, rock and gospel musical acts. Birmingham Jam, held in the fall at Sloss Furnaces, brings jazz, blues, and gospel groups from around the country for three days of quality performances.
The young and growing Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in September offers four days of independent film viewing at venues in Birmingham's downtown theater district. At the Bluff Park Arts and Crafts Show each October, browsers can see and buy arts and crafts items and enjoy a barbecue. Fall is the season for the Alabama State Fair, held at the State Fairgrounds in Birmingham. Demonstrations, exhibitions, contests, and entertainment are presented along with items for display and for sale. Other major celebrations include the Greek Food Festival, Oktoberfest, the Juneteenth Culture Fest and the Lebanese Food and Cultural Festival.
Sports for the Spectator
Often called "The Football Capital of the South," Birmingham enjoys a rich sports history. The legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant and Ralph "Shug" Jordan both coached football teams for many years at Birmingham's Legion Field Stadium, where the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide played its games to capacity crowds. In 2004, structural issues to Legion Fields upper deck seating forced the Tide to move most of their games to the Bryant-Denny Stadium. Legion Field hosts the Magic City Classic, the annual clash between Alabama State and Alabama A & M, and is home to the university's Division IA football team. Baseball fans go to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium from April to September to watch the Birmingham Barons, a Double A farm club of the Chicago White Sox. The Barons' former home and oldest American ballpark, Rickwood Field, is enjoying restoration and offers visitors a glimpse into history with tours and games. Greyhounds race at the Birmingham Race Course, a track set on a 330-acre wooded site. The grandstand can accommodate 20,000 spectators who may also enjoy the clubhouse and private facilities. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers play at UAB Arena and the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex regularly hosts prestigious national basketball events and championships and is home to the Birmingham Steeldogs football team. Greystone Country Club hosts the Bruno's Memorial Classic Senior PGA tournament each May. It has become one of the most popular venues on the Senior Tour.
Sports for the Participant
The Birmingham Park and Recreation Board operates 127 public recreational facilities, which host 2 public golf courses, 16 swimming pools, more than 120 tennis courts, and 23 softball fields. Suburban communities also boast fine recreational opportunities. Marathoners can test their endurance in the annual Mercedes Marathon, or the city's 10K Vulcan Run. A massive theme park in nearby Bessemer called VisionLand includes water sports, rides, auto racing, and skeet shooting. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Park opened in 2003. The $54 million racing facility and museum houses the Porsche Driving Experience school and hosts a variety of motorcycle and auto racing events. Built into the landscape, the state-of-the-art racetrack has no grandstands, with seating built into the surrounding hillside and offering good viewing vantage points from most locations. The Museum showcases nearly 900 motorcycles and 45 cars, most from businessman George W. Barber Jr.'s own collection.
Birmingham is famous for its beautiful golf courses. Its Oxmoor Valley Golf Course is one stop on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the largest golf course construction project ever attempted with a total of 378 holes over 18 courses throughout the state. According to Golf magazine, the course is "Alabama's equivalent of Disney World."
Shopping and Dining
The most recent center to open is Colonial Promenade Tutwiler Farm shopping center, whose tenants will include Home Depot, SuperTarget, and Books-A-Million. The new Watermark Place Outlet Center features more than 30 outlet stores. The Summit, with just under 80 shops opened in November 1997 and includes stores never before seen in the state, including Williams-Sonoma. One of the most exciting shopping centers in the Southeast is the Riverchase Galleria, located at the interchange of I-459 and U.S. 31, thirteen miles south of downtown Birmingham and in the center of the Riverchase community. The mall boasts the luxurious Wynfrey Hotel, an office tower, a ten-foot statue of blue herons in flight, the largest skylight in the country, and more than 200 stores. Five Points South is an entertainment and shopping area on the south side that offers unique restaurants, bars and specialty shops; it is the scene of a variety of festivals. The sights, sounds, and scents of an old-fashioned farmer's market are available at two Birmingham locations, the Jefferson County Truck Growers Association and Pepper Place Market. The Jefferson County market is open daily, year-round. The Pepper Place Market in the Lakeview Design District operates on Saturdays and offers fresh vegetables and flowers, baked goods, local organic produce and cooking demonstrations by area chefs.
Magic City residents are proud of their tradition of sumptuous dining coupled with southern hospitality. More than 600 restaurants dot the Birmingham area, from fast-food outlets to establishments specializing in ethnic cuisine and those featuring traditional southern barbecue: meat cooked slowly over coals and basted with savory sauce.
Visitor Information: Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2200 Ninth Avenue North, Birmingham, AL 35203; telephone (205)458-8000. Visitor Information Centers are located on the lower level of the Birmingham International Airport, telephone (205)458-8002, and at 1201 University Boulevard, telephone (205)458-8001. For information on University of Alabama events, call 934-0553. For weather information, call (205)945-7000.
Steel-Making Potential Spurs Growth
The Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes hunted in the Jones Valley long before the first white man set foot there. The natives found a valley teeming with game and strikingly marked with giant outcroppings of red rock. John Jones and a group of pioneers came to the area in 1815 and established the village of Jonesboro, and in 1819 Jefferson County was formed. Over the next few decades the population of the area gradually increased, and the abundant red rock was found to be high-grade iron ore. By the time of the Civil War, two ore-reducing furnaces were operating for the Confederacy. They were destroyed by Wilson's Raiders in 1865, and development of the valley was virtually halted until 1871, when the Elyton Land Company, realizing the tremendous potential of the valley rich in not only iron ore, but also coal and limestone—the essential ingredients in steel making—founded and incorporated a city to be built at the junction of two major railroads. Thus Birmingham, named for the steel-producing city in England, came into being.
With the expansion of the railroads, what had once been farms and woods became a boomtown, its population growing from 1,200 people in 1871 to 4,000 people in 1873. By 1875, however, after a cholera epidemic and other setbacks, the city's population had dropped back to 1,200 people. Birmingham expanded again in 1880 when the Pratt mining operation began making coke. Two coke furnaces went into blast that year, and by 1885, the population was 25,000 people. Birmingham was growing, and it was beginning to experience some big-city problems, such as crime and disease (particularly typhoid, dysentery, and tuberculosis). The 1890s marked the founding of Birmingham-Southern College, the Mercy Home, and St. Vincent's Hospital, but it was also a decade torn by violence stemming from dangerous mine and foundry conditions and conflicts between union organizers and mine owners.
After January 1, 1900, when the first commercial shipment of steel was made, rolling mills and other factories producing finished steel products began operating in Birmingham. Labor troubles continued in the new century, and the city was plagued with corrupt government officials, vice, and gambling. But Birmingham was growing in positive ways as well. A new model town of Corey, planned by U.S. Steel, was developed by private business, and eight suburbs were incorporated into the city, doubling its population. In October 1921, the city celebrated its fiftieth birthday with four days of festivities, including a visit by U.S. President Warren G. Harding and his wife. On a crest of prosperity that followed World War I, new apartment buildings, hotels, business facilities, and homes went up in Birmingham. During the 1920s, however, the secret white-supremacist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, gained considerable influence in the city; harassment, floggings, and unexplained violence against African Americans were unofficially tolerated by local authorities. As a one-industry town, Birmingham was devastated when the Great Depression of the 1930s reduced demand for iron and steel products; it was quickly deemed "the hardest hit city in the nation" by President Hoover's administration.
Birmingham was slow to recover from the Depression, although the federal government poured more than $350 million into the area in an attempt to stimulate the economy. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) tended to Birmingham's streets and parks, and among its projects was the restoration of the city's statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge. The statue was removed from the fairgrounds and placed atop a pedestal on Red Mountain, where it still stands today. Gradually the city began to recover, and by the time World War II was declared in Europe, Birmingham's manufacturing plants were busy preparing for an all-out war effort.
City Meets Post-War Challenges
Following World War II, the economy of Birmingham continued to flourish, and to help fill the need for economic diversification, two important institutions were brought to the city: the Medical School of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Alabama Research Institute, now called the Southern Research Institute and known worldwide for its research in industrial and medical fields. A development committee attracted more than one hundred new industries to the Birmingham area in the decade following World War II. In spite of such diversification, however, Birmingham was still hard hit by the recession in 1957, and by 1960 the city was again struggling with unemployment. Along with economic woes, Birmingham was embroiled in civil rights conflicts in the 1950s and 1960s as it sought to avoid forced integration of public transport and facilities. In 1963 civil rights advocate Martin Luther King, Jr. began leading peaceful demonstrations in Birmingham. African American children joining in the protests were arrested by the thousands, and photographs from Birmingham of demonstrators being hosed down by police and attacked by police dogs were published worldwide. State police were eventually called in to help restore order. Tensions over the proposed full-scale integration of city classrooms erupted in more violence when a bomb exploded in the basement of a church, killing four young girls who were changing into their choir robes. Birmingham and the nation were shocked by the event, which convinced the city of the need for change and signaled the end of racial violence.
In the 1970s Birmingham was once again booming, as residential areas spread south and east, millions of feet of warehouse space were constructed, new shopping malls sprang up, and the downtown area was revitalized. The 1979 election of an African American educator as mayor ushered in a new era of racial harmony.
Today's Birmingham, with nearly one million residents in the metropolitan area, is the largest city in Alabama. It has become a worldwide center for health care and boasts a large regional presence in finance, education, research, engineering, transportation and distribution. The early part of the new century saw the city as a booming technological center, with a growing number of people employed in technology jobs. Its symphony, ballet, orchestra, and outstanding schools make it a leader in the arts. And, above all, Birmingham's residents have made integration work—in employment, education, recreation, and health care.
Historical Information: Birmingham Historical Society, One Sloss Quarters, Birmingham, AL 35222; telephone (205)251-1880
Birmingham: Education and Research
Birmingham: Education and Research
Elementary and Secondary Schools
The Birmingham public schools offer the Education Program for the Individual Child (EPIC schools) with a population of 50 percent typical children and 50 percent children with developmental challenges; or 50 percent African American students and 50 percent white students; or 50 percent girls and 50 percent boys. EPIC schools aim to foster the individual student's sense of self-worth by helping students to communicate and understand one another. Seventeen public school systems serve the five-county Birmingham area. Fourteen of the seventeen systems rank above the national average on Scholastic Aptitude Test scores. Birmingham is the home of the Alabama School of Fine Arts, one of only a few such schools in the country to offer intensive study in both academic areas and the arts for grades seven through twelve. Mikhail Baryshnikov ranks the ballet school as one of the top three in the country.
The following is a summary of data regarding the Birmingham public schools as of the 2002–2003 school year.
Total enrollment: 36,133
Number of facilities
elementary schools: 52
junior high/middle schools: 18
senior high schools: 12
Student/teacher ratio: 15.6:1 (2005)
Teacher salaries (2004-05)
Funding per pupil: $8,778
Colleges and Universities
Eleven major institutions of higher learning are located in metropolitan Birmingham. They offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in such fields as engineering, business, education, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, religion, law, music, and liberal arts. The largest is the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), with 16,000 students. UAB is ranked as one of the finest medical centers in the world. According to The New York Times, UAB plays a major role in the life of the city. It provides assistance to ninety public schools and research information to numerous developing local businesses. Other Birmingham schools include Samford University, a private institution affiliated with the Baptist State Convention; Birmingham-Southern College, a four-year liberal arts school affiliated with the Methodist Church; Miles College; Bessemer State Technical College; Jefferson State Community College; University of Montevallo; Virginia College at Birmingham; Herzing College; Lawson State Community College; and ITT Technical Institute.
Libraries and Research Centers
In addition to 21 Birmingham Public Library locations, the Jefferson County Library System has 19 municipal libraries. The system numbers more than 1.5 million items in its collection and circulates almost 4 million items per year, including books, magazines, and recordings. More than 20 other libraries serve Birmingham; some of them are affiliated with educational institutions, while others are associated with religious groups or research centers. Their collections focus on such areas of interest as botany and horticulture, art, law, religion, regional history, engineering, genealogy, energy, science, medicine, and business.
In keeping with its status as a medical center for the southeast, Birmingham is home to a large number of health care research centers, most of which are supported by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). UAB, with its affiliate Southern Research Institute, receives more than $460 million in grant and contract money. Major projects center on aging, heart disease, human genetics, and immunological and other diseases. UAB is a designated center for AIDS research, and its Spinal Cord Injury Care System is one of the few in the nation. The Southern Research Institute is nationally recognized for its virus studies and cancer research and industrial research programs. Area research centers are active in other fields as well, including computers, education, labor, urban affairs, metallurgy, and electronics.
Public Library Information: Birmingham Public Library, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, AL 35203; telephone (205)226-3610
BIRMINGHAM , city in Alabama, U.S. The city grew from the intersection of two railroads in 1871, and the discovery of all ingredients necessary to make steel within a short radius. Jews were among the first settlers, but Jewish communal life did not begin to develop until 1882 when Birmingham had a population of 3,086. That year, Temple Emanu-El was formed. The Reform congregation was led in the 1890s by Samuel Ullman, who served on the board of education and pushed for the establishment of the state's first black high school. A poem Ullman wrote later in life, "Youth," was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur's and has become a cultural mainstay in Japan. Ullman's Birmingham home is now a museum.
Morris *Newfield, who served as rabbi of Temple Emanu-El from 1895 to 1940, was president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and an acknowledged civic and cultural leader.
An influx of East Europeans arrived from 1900 to 1920. Most of the immigrants had a poor command of English and were impoverished, but quickly found their way in the "Magic City." In 1892, an Orthodox congregation was established, Knesseth Israel, followed by Temple Beth-El in 1906, formed by KI members who wanted mixed seating. In 1926, Beth-El followed Emanu-El as the Jewish population shifted from the Northside to the city's Southside.
Jewish merchants started most of Birmingham's department stores, and Jews entered many other phases of civic life. In the financial panic of 1893, the Steiner brothers of Steiner Bank kept the city from going bankrupt.
After 1920 several important changes took place in the Jewish community. Antisemitism became more pronounced as the Ku Klux Klan gained strength, there was a sharper division between the generations, and there was an increased pace at which Jews moved from their old neighborhoods in the Northside. There was also the beginning of a united, local Jewish community, despite the continuance of a sharp division between the German Jews and the East European Jews. ki and the ymha were the last to leave the old Northside, in the 1950s. The ymha had been built in the 1920s with substantial non-Jewish support.
Since Jews were frozen out of local country clubs, they established the Hillcrest in 1883 for German Jews, and the Fairmont in 1920, for East European Jews. They merged in 1969, forming the Pine Tree Country Club, which opened its membership to non-Jews in 1991.
There were many strong Zionists in Birmingham in the 1940s. Rabbi Milton Grafman, who served Emanu-El from 1941 to 1975, broke with much of the Reform movement to support a Jewish state, and for a time anti-Zionist Reform Jews established their own congregation. The aftermath of the Holocaust, the establishment of Israel, and the emerging hostilities of the civil rights struggle began to eliminate the division between Birmingham's Jews.
A bomb with enough dynamite to level a city block was discovered outside Temple Beth-El in 1958. It had malfunctioned just short of detonation. White supremacists also threatened numerous local Jews who spoke out on behalf of civil rights, and much anti-integration material was overtly antisemitic. Many local Jews therefore worked behind the scenes to resolve the crisis, including the effort to change the city's form of government in 1963. The Jewish merchants were caught in the middle, between black customers using their only leverage through boycotts and white city officials who employed boycotts and legal intimidation. Local Jews resented the presence of northern Jews in the civil rights movement, who came down south for what was seen as grandstanding. In the decades that followed, there were numerous ongoing interfaith and interracial dialogues and groups.
The ymha moved from downtown in 1958 and became the Levite Jewish Community Center. It underwent a major expansion in 1993 and now houses the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, established in 1973, Collat Jewish Family Services, and the Birmingham Jewish Federation and Foundation. Half of the ljcc's membership is non-Jewish.
In the 1990s, Beth-El and Emanu-El underwent major expansions, a Chabad Center was established, and ki planned to build anew in 2005.
In 2005, the Jewish population of Birmingham was approximately 5,300 in a metro area of 1 million.
[Lawrence Brook (2nd ed.)]
PronunciationMiddle-class speech in the city is RP or near-RP. The following points apply mainly to working-class speech: (1) It is non-rhotic and generally aitchless. (2) The vowel /a/ tends to be used in both bat and bath. The pronunciation of Edgbaston (the name of a better-off part of the city) is a class SHIBBOLETH: the a is short among the working class, who stress the first syllable (‘EDGE-biston’), and long in ‘posh’ usage, with stress on the second syllable (‘Edge-BAHston’). (3) There is a tendency towards /ʊ/ in both but and boot, although the /ʌ/ pronunciation in words such as but, cut, and shut is spreading. (4) Words such as course and force are sometimes realized with a triphthong /ʌʊə/, especially among older speakers. (5) The monophthong /ɪ/ is close, so that it often sounds like eat and did like deed. (6) The -y ending of words such as happy is often pronounced /əi/ or /ʌi/. (7) The diphthongs in gate and goat tend to vary as between /aɪ∼ʌɪ/ and /aʊ∼ʌʊ/ rather than the /eɪ/ and /əʊ/ of RP. (8) The diphthong of house and mouth is /æʊ/. (9) The diphthongs in tie and toy have merged in /Dɪ/, producing homophones and uncertainty in such sentences as Where's your tie/toy? (10) Words and syllables ending in -ng tend to close with a voiced velar plosive: for example, /sɪŋgɪgŋg/ for singing and /kɪŋglʊɪ/ for kingly. This feature has been criticized so often that many Birmingham speakers tend to overcompensate in the attempt to avoid it, using /ŋ/ where /ŋg/ is standard, as in /fɪŋə/for finger.
Grammar and vocabularyEspecially among older speakers, the following grammatical features occur: up instead of to, as in He went up the pub half an hour ago and We'll go up town tomorrow; use of her instead of she, as in What's 'er doing then?; use of as as a relative pronoun, as in It wasn't 'im as went; use of /dai/ for did not, especially with know, as in They dai know where they was. Most people use the standard vocabulary, but older speakers may continue to use such words as brewins an outhouse, closet a toilet, miskin BrE dustbin, AmE trashcan, and suff a drain.
J. A. Cannon
BIRMINGHAM, the largest city in Alabama, was first settled in 1813 as the town of Elyton. During the Civil War, it was the site of a Confederate blast furnace because of its rich iron ore and other mineral deposits. The modern city was laid out in 1870 at the intersection of two railroads and was incorporated in 1871. Steel was first manufactured in the city in 1899, and Birmingham grew rapidly as an industrial center. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, Birmingham suffered in the same shadow of deindustrialization as the cities of the Midwest. In 1949, the iron and steel industry provided 20 percent of employment within the metropolitan area; by 1968 that employment had dropped to 10 percent. By 1980, four out of five of the largest employers were service-related industries.
No other city has been more synonymous with civil rights history than Birmingham, where in the 1960s, fire hoses, dogs, and police were vivid symbols of troubled race relations in the United States. Birmingham was the scene of several violent incidents during the civil rights movement. In 1961, white segregationists assaulted Freedom Riders in the city, and the bombing of an African American church killed four young girls in 1963, sparking race riots. Integration came to Birmingham along with other southern cities in 1964, and the city slowly moved toward acceptance. In 1979, Birmingham elected its first black mayor. In 1992 the city opened an institute that documents its role in the struggle for civil rights.
Lamonte, Edward Shannon. Politics and Welfare in Birmingham, 1900–1975. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.
Lewis, W. David. Sloss Furnaces and the Rise of the Birmingham District: An Industrial Epic. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994.
McWhorter, Diane. Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
Bobby M.Wilson/c. p.
See alsoRustbelt .
BIRMINGHAM , city in England. The Jewish community there is believed to have come into existence around 1730. The early Jewish settlers included peddlers who used Birmingham as a base. The first known Birmingham glass furnace was set up by Meyer Oppenheim (or Opnaim) in or about 1760. In 1783 a synagogue existed in "The Froggery." A new synagogue, constructed in Severn Street in 1809, was wrecked in the riots of 1813 along with the Nonconformist chapels but was rebuilt and enlarged in 1827. Internecine strife at this period resulted in the formation of a second congregation, but the two groups united to build the Singers Hill Synagogue, consecrated in 1856, and still in use. There were then about 700 Jews in Birmingham. The Jewish community included jewelers, merchants, and manufacturers. In the 20th century Jews were leading figures in property development and in the entertainment world. On the other hand, immigration from Eastern Europe affected Birmingham less than other large cities. Rabbis of the community included M.J. *Raphall (1841–49) and George J. Emanuel (1863–1911), succeeded by Abraham *Cohen (1913–49). To serve the East European Jews who settled in Birmingham a bet midrash was opened in 1901, which later became the Central Synagogue. The Hebrew Philanthropic Society, established in 1838, and the Board of Guardians, in 1870, were consolidated in 1926 in the Birmingham United Jewish Benevolent Board. The Birmingham Jewish Representative Council was established in 1937. About 500 German Jewish refugees settled in Birmingham in the late 1930s. Jews have played a prominent part in the civic and business life of Birmingham. Sir David Davis served as lord mayor in 1922 and 1923, as did Louis Glass in 1963–64. Birmingham, whose Jewish population numbered approximately 6,300 in 1967, had the lowest percentage of Jews of any great city in England. By the mid-1990s the Jewish population had dropped to approximately 3,000, while the 2001 British census, which asked an optional question about the religious affiliation of respondents for the first time, found 2,340 declared Jews in Birmingham, although the actual figure was probably still about 3,000. In 2004, Birmingam had two Orthodox synagogues and a Reform temple, a *sheḥitah board, and other local institutions.
C. Roth, Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), 32–33; C. Gill and A. Briggs, History of Birmingham (1952). add. bibliography: Z. Josephs, Birmingham Jewry, 1749–1940 (1980); idem., Birmingham Jewry, Volume 2: More Aspects, 1740–1930 (1984); idem., Survivors: Jewish Refugees in Birmingham, 1933–45 (1988); jyb, 2004.
[Sefton D. Temkin]