Birmingham City Council

New Birmingham Bold Funding Approved for Economic Development Projects, From Help for Small Businesses to Job Training for Single Mothers

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin  (Source: Sam Prickett)

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve $680,949.46 in program funding for seven local organizations as part of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s Building Opportunities for Lasting Development initiative.

Adah International, the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Birmingham Business Resource Center, Jefferson State Community College, REV Birmingham, the Salvation Army, and the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham were the beneficiaries in Bold’s second year, following approval of the program’s “inaugural class” last November.

The Bold program started last year after Woodfin nixed funding for many individual economic development organizations in his FY 2019 operating budget. Instead, his administration instructed those organizations to apply for funding through the newly created Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. Of the 10 requests that were approved last year, “not one organization … got 100 percent of their requests,” Woodfin said.

This year, some organizations received even less than that. REV Birmingham, for instance, received $338,000 of its requested $800,000 last year; this year, it was approved for just $152,431 in Bold funding. REV, according to the funding agreement, will spend that money to “provide technical assistance to small business owners in the City of Birmingham, with a focus on women-owned, minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses.” That assistance will come in the form of market studies, workshops for business owners and site visit consultations.

Women-owned, minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses were a focus of several of the Bold agreements approved Tuesday. The Birmingham Business Resource Center received $152,431 to create a “supplier diversity program” to help those businesses “take advantage of key projects and developments, from the 2021 World Games to the BJCC expansion and the Birmingham Xpress bus transit system development.”

Jefferson State Community College, which also received Bold funding last year, received $46,087.46 to implement an educational program teaching information technology skills to single mothers. That program will also include child care and wraparound services. The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, meanwhile, received $80,000 to “strengthen its social innovation efforts in Birmingham,” focusing on economic opportunities for women and children.

The Birmingham Business Alliance received $150,000 to attract “scaleups” — businesses that have grown beyond the start-up phase — and talent for those scaleups to Birmingham. The Salvation Army received $50,000 to provide “educational remediation and training that leads to sustainable employment opportunities at or above Alabama’s liveable wage.”

Finally, the council approved $50,000 for Adah International, which will go toward establishing a permanent World Trade Center in Birmingham. The city had been approved for a WTC license — for which it paid $250,000 —  in July 2017, after which a temporary office was set up at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center. The Bold grant will fund permanent operations and staff for the center.

Josh Carpenter, the city’s director of innovation and economic opportunity, told the Birmingham Business Journal in February that a WTC would help the city learn “best practices” used worldwide.

“We hope to adapt those to our city, boosting foreign direct investment and exposing Birmingham products and services and markets abroad,” he said.

All seven Bold grants passed without discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, in sharp contrast to last year’s drawn-out discussion. This change may have been due to the absence of District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, who last year criticized several of the organizations — including REV and the Birmingham Business Alliance — for not putting more resources into west Birmingham. He was the sole dissenting vote for many of last year’s Bold recipients. This year, all seven passed unanimously.