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On March 5, Josh Carpenter will become director of economic development for the City of Birmingham, a key staff member for Mayor Randall Woodfin, who took office last November. Today, Carpenter delivered a “preview” of his agenda at the Bronze Valley Conference, proclaiming his excitement in taking on his new role and meeting the challenges and opportunities ahead.

“Birmingham’s got a little bit of swagger right now,” Carpenter said. “We have a new, dynamic young mayor and some real momentum. It’s a great opportunity for us to elevate and amplify everything that’s happening here.”

Excitement and momentum aside, city leaders must be realistic about the challenges, Carpenter told the Bronze Valley audience.

“Right now, I have more questions than answers,” he said. “The real challenge is making sure we ask the right questions.”

Setting the context for those questions, Carpenter capsulized the climate in Birmingham as “a tale of two cities.” The ongoing growth and transformation of the city’s downtown area, he said, is counterbalanced by the 30 percent poverty rate in the city as a whole. He also pointed to a recent study revealing that 58 percent of jobs in Birmingham are at risk of being automated in the next 10 years.

“Those are things we have to do something about,” said Carpenter. “We can’t run from it. We have to embrace it and meet it head-on and intentionally.”

Carpenter also addressed Birmingham’s opportunity to develop a tech-based economy and workforce, tying that opportunity to the need for diversification in the technology field. Alluding to the “network of mutuality advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he said the Woodfin administration is committed to making Birmingham the nation’s premiere location for minorities and women to start businesses by 2020.

Carpenter listed five things that will drive the city’s economic development efforts in that direction: Attracting, cultivating and retaining tech talent; modernizing the city’s economic development strategy and operations; building dynamic public-private partnerships; diversifying the toolbox of incentives for new and expanding businesses; and collecting and utilizing data more effectively. All of that, he said, boils down to one directive: Putting people first.

“We all talk about the knowledge-based economy,” Carpenter said. “The currency of the knowledge-based economy is a skilled workforce. By investing in our people, we are creating opportunities for people and businesses to succeed, and we are positioned to do that. That’s what makes Birmingham a great place to be.”

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Neill Wright, Executive Director of Bronze Valley: nwright@bronzevalley.com

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