City of Birmingham

Would You Be My Neighbor? Jefferson County Mayors Answer ‘Yes’ as They Sign Pledge Not to Poach Business

Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato signs Good Neighbor Pledge as other mayors wait their turn to sign the agreement. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Trafford Mayor Greg Rogers wasn’t present in the Jefferson County Commission chambers this morning but the spirit of TV’s Mister Rogers was as 22 Jefferson County mayors signed the Good Neighbor Pledge.

The pact discourages poaching between cities in the county. Each city represented in the agreement pledges not to recruit business from another city within the county.

“Under the voluntary agreement, we as mayors promise we will not lure businesses away from other cities in Jefferson County through solicitation or incentives,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said. “I’m convinced the Good Neighbor Pledge will lay a better foundation for our cities’ future … all of us within the county.”

Woodfin said not having a pledge such as the one signed today put Birmingham at risk of losing small businesses, including shops, grocery stores and restaurants.

“When a business closes in one city and moves to a neighboring city, we’re not creating new jobs, we’re not creating opportunities,” the Birmingham mayor continued. “We’re just shuffling them around.”

Some mayors, including the mayors of Trafford and Bessemer, could not be present because of scheduling conflicts. Each had already affixed his signature to the document.

Beyond Birmingham, Trafford and Bessemer, the pledge was signed by the mayors of Argo, Brighton, Center Point, Clay, Fairfield, Graysville, Homewood, Hoover, Lipscomb, Midfield, Mountain Brook, Mulga, Pleasant Grove, Sylvan Springs, Tarrant, Trussville, Vestavia Hills, Warrior and West Jefferson.

Today’s press conference did not close the door on the county’s remaining 13 mayors. Each is welcome to sign the pledge going forward.

Read the full text of the Good Neighbor pledge.

The assembled mayors acknowledged that businesses will move, but not because neighboring cities have enticed them to do so.

Said Woodfin: “We believe when a city actively solicits or encourages a business to close in another city and move to their city, that is not neighborly nor is it a true and fair focus on regional and real economic growth.”

Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch drafted the Good Neighbor Pledge, based on similar agreements adopted in other metro areas across the country.

“For decades, we’ve engaged in the self-defeating cycle of economic cannibalism that provided a false sense of growth,” Welch said, acknowledging that that pledge is not perfect. “We are forming a panel of mayors who can act as a sounding board, offer guidance and deal with those situations as they arise.”

Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said cities in Jefferson County have a reputation of competing against rather than working with one another. He said economic development favors areas that work together.

“What this agreement does is puts everyone on a level playing field,” Brocato said. “This agreement will allow us to recruit for the entire metro area. An area in Hoover may not be right for a particular business. Maybe Vestavia, Bessemer or Birmingham is right.

“We as mayors want to promote the other cities as well,” the Hoover mayor said. “I think that’s the important part of this agreement.”

The agreement stemmed from conversations that occurred among members of the Jefferson County Mayors Association over the past year. The conversations were facilitated by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, as part of its effort to foster more regional cooperation and job growth in Jefferson County.

“At the end of the day,” Brocato said, “we’re going to stress a positive message about doing business somewhere in Jefferson County if not in our particular city. We feel this is a more comprehensive strategy for growth that will benefit all of us and create a baseline transparency and trust among all our colleagues and our peers.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons chairs the commission’s development committee. In a prepared statement, he said other metro areas in the U.S. have experienced considerable success by working to rein in internal competition and focus instead on collective growth.

“Our mayors recognized they could get better results by focusing on true economic gains rather than fighting each other for what’s already here,” the commissioner said. “Their efforts will not only pay dividends for their constituents but for generations to come.”