After Emerging From Bankruptcy, What's Next For Jefferson County?

Dec 5, 2013

Brian Hilson is President and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance which helped Jefferson County in it's process to emerge from one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history.
Credit Birmingham Business Journal

Jefferson County has emerged from one the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history. After two years of meeting with creditors and countless days in court the county commission can operate with more ease. But how did they get to this point? Alabama Public Radio’s Ryan Vasquez talked with Brian Hilson who is President and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance about his organization's involvement in helping Jefferson County emerge from bankruptcy and what's next. Hilson talked about the BBA's role, which was to present a positive economic picture to the county's creditors and investors...

Brian Hilson: The role of the Birmingham Business Alliance was to make presentations to each of them on our economy, our diversification, our key economic assets, our recent growth, our prospects for future growth and to outline for them in some detail why it is that the local economy is in good condition while the county commission’s finances have not been.

Ryan Vasquez: It may be hard to tell but just the perception of bankruptcy and what it is and maybe the area is not really doing bad but the perception of bankruptcy just as we’re dealing with Detroit now. How much does that affect people or maybe business or anything in a given area?

Brian Hilson: Image and perception really comes in two flavors one is your local self perception and the other is how the outside world may view us or may not view us at all. And both of those were questions to us and I was fearful that the impact at least locally might be well here is more of the same. And the truth is the leadership that we have in place in local government today at all levels our municipalities and county government is actually very strong. They’re bright, they’re progressive they understand what matters most and to most people that’s jobs and a solid economy. Our concern was that the declaration of bankruptcy might cause people to think locally no surprise here this is just more of the same. So the information that we use during the two year period of the bankruptcy was to play to Birmingham’s strengths to recognize individually the companies and other sources and reasons for a strong economy and the growth that we’ve been seeing.

Ryan Vasquez: And I don’t know if there is much precedence for this because I know that at one point Jefferson County was the largest municipal bankruptcy it’s now the second largest and Detroit will have some time before they move out of theirs. But what happens how? Once you’re clear of the specter of bankruptcy, what is Birmingham business and Jefferson County in larger part general…what can happen now?

Brian Hilson: It doesn’t necessarily change the marketing tactics that we’ve had in place for some time probably the most significant change will be the involvement of Jefferson County, the Jefferson County Commission in the economic development process. During the bankruptcy, the county even though it’s leadership recognizes the importance of economic growth and that growth is a way to put the past behind them and you grow your way into a better financial condition, they haven’t been able to do that. They have not been able to invest in land, infrastructure, they haven’t been able to participate in assisting companies in the projects we work, there’s been no capability for incentives where those might be appropriate for certain projects. So the county’s participation has been nil, and again it’s not because the leadership hasn’t recognized what was at stake, but their hands were tied. Now you know they may have tied them themselves, but those were the circumstances that they were dealing with. Now, if you talk with anyone in the top leadership positions in county government one of the first things they’ll tell you is that economic development is at the top of the list. Economic development meaning investment in the community in a way that stimulates further investment, generates more tax revenue, better quality of life, better services provided by the county which in turn will generate further economic growth. That’s what it really is all about so we’re pleased to see the Jefferson County Commission in the position that its wanted to be in all along.