While we are all equal in value, not all have equal access to the opportunities that are necessary for people to thrive. Our Community Foundation is dedicated to creating wide, smooth pathways to economic opportunity for everyone. That includes the student who is preparing for the next level of learning, the worker who wants to advance her career, the entrepreneur who has ambitions to grow a business, and anyone who has been left behind in a chance for economic success.
What We Believe
According to the Brookings Institution, the Birmingham metropolitan area ranks near the bottom of the 100 largest metros in several measures of economic growth and inclusion (93rd of 100 in job growth, 97th in employment growth, 93rd in poverty gap, 84th in earnings gap). In our efforts to improve economic opportunity, we must start with being honest about where we stand and bold about changing our trajectory.
We believe our region has untapped workforce and small business assets that if invested in could become our greatest strength. As the Brookings Institution states, Birmingham must grow from within, building on ‘existing businesses and existing population’. Small and mid-sized firms that are the ‘engine of job creation’ need more support to start up and grow. We should focus more on traded sector firms that sell products and services beyond the region and can grow our region’s wealth. As a whole, our local workforce is under skilled and disconnected from quality job opportunities. Systemic exclusion often leaves vast segments of the population on the sidelines, limiting both their access to jobs and opportunities to attain entrepreneurial success. If we strategically address these challenges, our diverse, highly trained local workforce and growing, job-creating businesses could make our region a model for inclusive growth.
The Impact We Seek
With a focus on those who have often been under-served or left out of economic opportunity, we are looking to support efforts to:
- Prepare more people for in-demand, high-quality jobs of today and tomorrow
- Create more high-quality jobs and successful businesses
- Increase access to jobs by addressing structural inequities and building the physical and social infrastructure that connects people to what they need to succeed
What Progress Looks Like
While there are many roads to economic opportunity for all, below are some measures the Foundation will track that we see as critical markers of progress. We will also track qualitative measures and – because this work is dynamic and we are learning – may evolve our measures over time.
- Increase in people obtaining high quality certificates, credentials, and/or degrees
- Increase in people with soft skills training
- Increase in people completing internships or apprenticeships
- Increase in people obtaining high quality jobs (living wage, basic benefits, opportunities for advancement)
- Increase in quality jobs available, particularly in traded sector fields such as IT, advanced manufacturing, life sciences
- Increase in people affordable, efficient transportation to education, training, and jobs
- Increase in access to job-supporting services like quality, affordable childcare
- Increase in businesses receiving quality training and technical assistance
- Increase in funding invested in small businesses, esp. minority- and women-owned
- Increase in number of profitable small businesses, esp. minority- and women-owned
- Increase in state, national, and federal funding for economic opportunity initiatives
- Increase in advocacy and policies passed to improve economic opportunity for all
We will also track longer-term community outcomes like the data points highlighted above. We believe the Foundation can contribute to moving the needle on these outcomes over time.
The research of the Brookings Institution in Birmingham and nationally has been important in shaping our approach to this priority. Brookings found that in Jefferson County, 40% of working-age residents are either out of work (but want a job) or earning low wages, while quality jobs go unfilled. Over 60% of out-of-work youth are looking for a job. A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that ‘the vast majority of jobs are created by businesses that start up or are already present in a state…’homegrown’ jobs contribute more than 80% of total job creation.’ Yet according to Brookings’ research, the Birmingham metro has the second lowest rate of technical assistance to firms nationally and eight times less lending by CDFIs (financial institutions that serve disadvantaged communities) than its peers.
The Building (it) Together report for Greater Birmingham, which the Foundation helped commission, has also been a critical resource. This study found that the Birmingham metro has a higher percentage of low-skilled workers than peer cities and the nation as a whole, which limits these workers’ capacity to access quality jobs and curbs the region’s ability to grow those jobs. We need better alignment across the region to educate and upskill residents to meet current and future workforce demand in high-growth sectors. We need to focus on growing high-quality jobs in traded industries like IT, advanced manufacturing, and life sciences, where Birmingham already has strengths to build on but has not met its potential. In response to the report, a coalition of partners developed a regional workforce strategy to align the Greater Birmingham region around these recommendations.