Spotlight on Jefferson County

ABOVE Regions Field and adjacent Railroad Park have become the centerpieces of a flowering of downtown Birmingham redevelopment. Photo by Arik Sokol, courtesy of Alabama Tourism Department

Jefferson County, Alabama’s largest by population, also is home to the state’s largest city, Birmingham. The city has won accolades in recent years as a great place to live, work and do business.

And by all measures, those high marks should continue. According to the 2017 Economic Growth Report, presented by the Birmingham Business Alliance, 2016 was an outstanding year in the Birmingham region for job creation.

That report says that in 2016 more than 2, 000 jobs and $587 million in capital investment were announced by new and expanding companies in the seven-county region represented by the BBA. Jefferson County saw more than half the jobs, at 1, 136, and the lion’s share of the capital investment, at $482 million. Of the 75 companies that announced jobs or investment, 81 percent were existing companies.

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“2017 is going to be one of the best years in economic development in the Birmingham area, ” says Brian Hilson, president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance. “We have already had major announcements this year. We have also had a lot of recognition nationally as a great place to live and work. There is a lot of momentum here that we have been able to sustain.”

Downtown projects — especially those transforming historic buildings for new retail, dining and housing — have won kudos, says Hilson. Railroad Park and Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons, also have been game changers. Also a magnet is the city’s Innovation District, which is home to the largest startup incubator in the Southeast.

“There are 85, 000 people who work downtown, the largest concentration of employees in the state, ” he says. “These projects and improvements have been the impetus for many to want to live downtown as well.”

Helping to maintain the progress, the Birmingham Regional Workforce Partnership has an ongoing talent recruitment project to help meet industry workforce needs.

“We are very pleased to have an Alabama Workforce Training Center (part of AIDT) here with an emphasis on manufacturing and construction skills training, ” Hilson says. “UAB also received a grant that will help train information technology workers. We are committing to work even more with UAB and others to see Birmingham better utilize what’s already here.”

Many of the newest industry announcements, from distribution to auto supply to pharmaceuticals, are centered in the industrial and business parks of western, eastern and central Jefferson County.

“Actually, the jobs and investment activity we’ve had in the Birmingham region and Jefferson County during the last six years have been substantially higher than years before, ” Hilson says. “We’ve had better numbers and diverse industries coming in. At the same time, we all have our sights set higher on even better numbers.”

Health care is a huge economic engine as well, providing care for local residents and specialized services for the entire region.

Jefferson County offers more than jobs. Natural resources abound, from mountains to rivers. Birmingham has some of the state’s most popular attractions, and tourism is one of its economic drivers. An entertainment district and a growing downtown residential presence has resulted in retail and more housing being built. Parks and other community amenities are plentiful here.

The county has strong K-12 school systems, college and university options for higher education and workforce training.

Economic Engines


UAB, the largest employer in the county with 23, 000 faculty and staff, is a massive economic engine. Its varied academic programs and medical divisions have a $5 billion impact on the economy. UAB is in the top 175 worldwide in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 Best Global Universities ranking. UAB Hospital is the third largest public hospital in the U.S.

UAB ranks 34th in federal research funding and 18th in research funding among public universities. It has 10 programs in the top 25 U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 “America’s Best Graduate Schools” list. And UAB ranked 66th in U.S. utility patents worldwide granted in the 2016 “Top 100” list from the National Academy of Inventors.

UAB is on the cutting edge on issues that affect medicine, sports and other sectors. For example, researchers have teamed with helmet manufacturer VICIS to create safer football helmet designs. UAB is studying concussion and traumatic brain injury in several ways, from basic research to high-impact lab testing at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham.

UAB also serves the community. For example, students from the UAB Collat School of Business each year volunteer their time to prepare thousands of tax returns for free to local working families; the UAB medical school clinics see patients in need, and grants are helping UAB train local youth for high-tech IT jobs.

UAB partners with local entities in several areas, including economic development. “UAB is the most important economic asset we have, ” says Brian Hilson, president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, the economic development arm of a group of counties that includes Jefferson. “It has a huge economic impact.”

UAB football has returned, with the new $22.5 million Football Operations Center and Legacy Pavilion opened this August. The facility includes office space, team meeting and film rooms, weight room, training facilities, locker rooms and practice fields, one of which is covered by an open-air pavilion.

The district near UAB was recently dubbed the Innovation District, recognizing the high tech and biotech goals for the area, which is already home to Innovation Depot, the largest incubator in the Southeast. UAB also partners and benefits from Southern Research, a nonprofit research facility with nearly 500 scientists who work in drug discovery, drug development, engineering and energy/environment areas.

Southern Research has developed seven FDA-approved cancer drugs and has credits for another dozen approved and 18 in the development process. The facility also develops medical devices. Recently, it was awarded two five-year contracts totaling up to $90 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for nonclinical research services advancing the agency’s work to protect the U.S. against infectious disease and bio-terror threats.


With several hospitals in the area providing highest-level care, Jefferson County is well represented — so much so that the area is a focal point for many who come from all over the state of Alabama and the world for medical care.

All of the hospitals in the county are on the list of the overall largest employers in the county, and generate billions in economic impact for the area. There also is ever-increasing growth in not only convenient health care clinics and freestanding emergency rooms, but more programs and services. Among the largest employers in this sector are UAB, St. Vincent’s Health System, Children’s of Alabama, Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Grandview Medical Center.

Metal and Steel Manufacturing

Birmingham was built on a foundation of iron and steel. At one time, one company employed more than 40, 000 people. Even today, metals play a major role. Most of the largest industrial employers in Jefferson County are involved in the making of metals including iron, steel, aluminum and the materials needed to make it. With Birmingham’s proximity to Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa County, many also are involved in automotive parts manufacturing.

Some of the largest companies involved in metals include American Cast Iron Pipe Co., U.S. Pipe and Foundry Co., Kamtek Inc., U.S. Steel, McWane, CMC Steel and O’Neal Industries.


As the home of several banks and insurance companies, Birmingham has been a successful location for not only the big guys, but also start-up banks and financial institutions.

Regions Financial Corp., based in Birmingham, is the largest banking employer, with 9, 000 employees, and is the only Fortune 500 company headquartered in Alabama. BBVA Compass also is a big player, with 2, 285 — Birmingham is its North American headquarters. Wells Fargo is represented well here with 1, 978 employees, and also has a customer operations center. And the rapidly growing ServisFirst is building a $35 million corporate headquarters/operations center.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, with 3, 100 employees, is based in Birmingham, and Protective Life Corp., one of the city’s largest publicly traded companies, has 1, 550 employees. Other large companies, like State Farm, have 1, 069 employees.

Other major employers include utilities, with AT&T having 4, 517; Alabama Power Co. with 3, 092, and Southern Company Services with 1, 881.

Trade and Distribution/Diverse Manufacturing

The county is home to major distribution centers, such as Home Depot, Dollar General and CVS. Publix opened in February in west Jefferson County, hiring 300. The county also has operations centers for various industries that employ hundreds, and several research and development centers are in progress.

Birmingham is a large transportation hub. The city is one of only three Southeastern cities with a six-spoke interstate network and is the state’s largest rail hub. The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is among the largest commercial airports in the Southeast.

Jefferson County also has a diverse manufacturing base. Food products, plastics, fire extinguishers and chemicals all are part of the top 10 industrial employers list.


Tourism is big business in Jefferson County. According to the most recent economic impact study done for the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau, the number of out-of-state visitors increased 3 percent over the 2015 numbers. Traveler spending also went up, reaching $1.8 billion, an increase over 2015’s figure of $1.7 billion.

The county is home to several of the state’s most-visited attractions, including the Birmingham Zoo, Vulcan Park, courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, McWane Science Center, Railroad Park, Tannehill Historical Park, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Sloss Historic Landmark Park and Aldridge Gardens. The city has a strong Civil Rights district, with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, all part of the statewide Civil Rights Trail. And Barber Motorsports Park and Museum in Leeds has a large economic impact and is attracting retail and other development.

Tourist spending patterns in 2016 illustrated the many restaurant, shopping, lodging and recreation options. Birmingham is home to award-winning cuisine and is a favorite destination for foodies. Festivals are very popular here as well.

Also, Birmingham will host the 2021 World Games, and recently announced it will be home of a new second division soccer team that will compete in the United Soccer League.

ABOVE More than 650, 000 visits and procedures are conducted each year at UAB Hospital’s Kirklin Clinic.

Health Care

UAB Health System

With 23, 000 employees, UAB is the largest employer in the county, and UAB Hospital is the third largest public hospital in the U.S. It also is the largest economic engine in the county and plays a major role in economic development, as well as its partnerships in many areas with other entities.

With a comprehensive list of services and specialties, UAB Hospital’s physicians and researchers are on the “best” lists of many publications and continue to receive accolades for their work. UAB is known for cutting-edge research — the hospital is 34th among federal research funding in the U.S. and 18th among public universities. Ten medical specialties are ranked among the nation’s top 50 programs of their kind by U.S. News & World Report.

UAB provides Level 1 trauma services for the region.

More than 650, 000 visits and procedures are performed every year at the Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, and patients come from the local area, across the state and beyond.

UAB is partnering with the city of Gardendale to build a medical office building that will house primary care and family care services and provide convenient access to medical services for north Jefferson County. It will expand UAB’s existing Gardendale primary care practice, adding lab services, digital radiology and more. UAB also plans to build a freestanding emergency department in Gardendale.

UAB’s School of Medicine is made up of nearly 800 students and more than 900 residents and 1, 400 full-time faculty in 26 academic departments. Its faculty also serves Children’s of Alabama.

UAB Health System in Jefferson County also includes UAB Medical West in Bessemer; and UAB Hospital Highlands, a general acute care facility on the UAB campus.

Children’s of Alabama

Children’s is a private, not-for-profit hospital that treats all children regardless of their family’s ability to pay. The hospital has more than 650, 000 visits to its clinics and nearly 14, 000 patient admissions each year. It is a world-class cancer center, treating more than 90 percent of all children diagnosed with cancer in Alabama.

Children’s is one of the 10 busiest pediatric hospitals in the nation and is the pediatric teaching hospital for the UAB School of Medicine. It offers the only accredited pediatric epilepsy monitoring unit in the nation, the only pediatric burn center in the state and one of the largest pediatric cardiology programs in the Southeast, Alabama’s only Level IV NICU in conjunction with UAB’s Regional NICU, performs organ transplants and more.

Children’s frequently earns accolades for its services and it is heavily involved in research. Children’s also presents an array of child safety outreach programs.

Medical West

Medical West, an affiliate of UAB Health System, has 310 beds and is an acute care hospital in Bessemer. It has 1, 007 employees. Medical West offers comprehensive hospital services that include emergency, intensive care, GI services, cardiology services, women’s center, imaging, geriatric-psychiatric unit, diagnostic imaging, surgical services, inpatient and outpatient rehab, sleep center and wound center.

Medical West has 15 clinics around west Jefferson County, including family medicine, and has a free-standing emergency room in Hoover off of Interstate 459 with a level 3 trauma center that also offers convenient outpatient diagnostic services.

Grandview Medical Center

Grandview Medical Center, with 372 beds, opened in 2015 on U.S. 280. The hospital serves residents of Birmingham and surrounding communities. Grandview offers diverse specialties from heart care to labor and delivery to robotic-assisted surgery. Specialty units include a Level III trauma center, certified Chest Pain Center, recognized stroke center, cardiac cath lab and neonatal, surgical and medical intensive care.

Grandview broke ground recently on a freestanding, comprehensive Cancer Center, a 25, 444-square-foot building located on the hospital campus. The cancer center will offer a wide range of oncology services with onsite medical and radiation oncologists collaborating in an interdisciplinary approach. It is set to open in summer 2018.

Other recent developments include:

Grandview is the first and only hospital in the Southeast, and one of only four in the country, to earn Cardiac Electrophysiology Accreditation by the Heart Rhythm Society / Intersocietal Accreditation Commission.

Grandview Medical Center’s 17-bed inpatient rehab unit has been recognized as among the top 10 percent in the United States.

Grandview is the first and only hospital in Alabama to offer a minimally invasive treatment option for men diagnosed with prostate cancer, high intensity focused ultrasound.

Brookwood Baptist Health

In the Birmingham area, the hospitals in this group merged in 2015, including Brookwood Baptist Medical Center, Princeton Baptist Medical Center and in Shelby County, Shelby Baptist Medical Center.

Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in Homewood, with 607 beds and 2, 392 employees, offers a full array of comprehensive services. It has an extensive cardiology, cardiothoracic and vascular surgery network. Recent developments include:

A new Structural Heart and Valve Center, which offers a comprehensive assessment and treatment of valvular and structural disease. In winter 2017, it will open a new hybrid suite that will enhance the heart and vascular teams.

A new labor and delivery emergency room in May 2017, and partnership OB Hospitalist Group.

Recognition for outstanding lactation care services.

Princeton Baptist Medical Center in west Birmingham, with 1, 716 employees, recently became the first in the Southeast to offer new technology to aid in the treatment of severe aortic stenosis.

St. Vincent’s Birmingham/St. Vincent’s East

St. Vincent’s Health System in Jefferson County is made up of St. Vincent’s Birmingham (409 beds) and St. Vincent’s East (362 beds), along with several patient clinics offering family medicine and home health throughout Jefferson and surrounding counties.

The St. Vincent’s system also includes hospitals in Blount, Chilton and St. Clair counties, plus a wellness center and a new clinic under construction in Trussville.

The system is a part of Ascension Health, the nation’s largest Catholic and nonprofit health system. St. Vincent’s East also houses the 45-bed Noland Hospital Birmingham, part of a network of long-term, acute care providers in Alabama. Noland meets the needs of the medically complex patient.

HealthSouth Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital

HealthSouth Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital in Homewood has offered high-quality rehab services for more than 40 years. HealthSouth’s corporate offices are in Birmingham, and the company operates rehab hospitals across the U.S.

Lakeshore, with 100 beds, is an inpatient rehab center that offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services designed to return patients to leading active and independent lives. The hospital is currently undergoing a $30 million, three-year construction project that will involve a two-story, 20, 220-square-foot addition for patient rooms, a nursing station, a lobby and day room. Phase two will renovate 60 patient rooms.

Officials also announced earlier this year that HealthSouth Corp. will change its name to Encompass Health Corp. effective January 2, 2018, saying the new name better represents the hospital’s expanding national footprint and the services it offers.

HealthSouth recently broke ground in north Shelby County for a $17 million, 34-bed inpatient rehab hospital. The new facility will provide higher medical management for dialysis patients, stroke recovery patients and more.

Birmingham VA Medical Center

The Birmingham VA Medical Center operates a 131-bed tertiary care teaching medical center with a budget of approximately $500 million and more than 2, 400 full time employees. The medical center has nine Community Based Outpatient Clinics throughout northern Alabama.

Services include medicine, surgery, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurology, oncology, dentistry, geriatrics and blind rehabilitation. The facility is a recognized leader in palliative care and multiple sclerosis.

The medical center is one of six renal transplant centers in the VA system. It serves as the host for the Birmingham/Atlanta Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center, one of 20 such VA Centers of Excellence in the nation. The medical center has an ongoing, interdisciplinary research program that combines strengths in basic biomedical research with strengths in health services and rehabilitation research to create a vibrant, veteran-centered research community.

The Birmingham VA Medical Center is affiliated with 103 college and university programs — the primary clinical affiliation is with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. About 600 physician residents fully integrate with those at the UAB School of Medicine, and more than 92 medical students serve at the VA Medical Center each academic year. There also is a fully integrated dental affiliation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry. The Birmingham VA also is affiliated with UAB through the schools of education, optometry, nursing and health professions.

ABOVE The Brock School of Business at Samford University is accredited by AACSB International.

Higher Education

University of Alabama at Birmingham

UAB, with 19, 535 students enrolled in fall 2016, is one of the nation’s most diverse campuses and is known for its innovative academic programs and groundbreaking research.

In addition to its college of arts and sciences, the university includes schools of business, dentistry, education, engineering, health professions, joint health sciences, medicine, nursing, optometry and public health. The campus covers 100 city blocks, is the county’s largest employer and is a major force in economic development.

Its academic programs are nationally recognized for their exceptional research and service learning opportunities. Also, the school partners with city and county officials and entities for a number of economic development projects, internships and more.

Building projects in progress include:

  • A new Collat School of Business and Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to include multi-dimensional learning spaces, career services space and more. The development also will include the Center for Sales Leadership, the Healthcare Leadership Academy and the Regions Institute for Financial Education.
  • A new two-story, 28, 000-square-foot facility for the new UAB Police Department headquarters.
  • A $32 million expansion of the UAB School of Nursing.
  • Expansion of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, adding two wings and a 300-seat auditorium.

In other news:

  • The National Science Foundation awarded UAB a $2.1 million Scholarship for Service grant to help prepare students for careers in cybersecurity.
  • UAB was named a 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School for its efforts to reduce environmental impact.
  • UAB’s School of Education added a new master of science in instructional design and development that will begin this fall.
  • Ten of UAB’s programs are listed in the top 25 U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 “America’s Best Graduate Schools” list.
  • UAB is a founding partner in Innovation Depot, the largest high-tech incubator in the Southeast.
  • UAB also promotes the cultural and artistic vitality of the community and state, with the Alys Stephens Center for the Performing Arts and other venues.

Samford University

Samford University, celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, is a nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. It has an enrollment of approximately 5, 471 students representing 47 states and 29 countries.

In 2017, U.S. News & World Report ranked Samford No. 4 among regional universities in the South and No. 3 for a strong commitment to teaching. Samford is nationally ranked for affordability and value, and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranked Samford No. 40 in its 2017 ranking of the best value private universities. Samford is consistently ranked highly by other publications, as well.

Under President Andrew Westmoreland’s leadership, the university has experienced its most significant growth — numerically, academically, physically and financially — in decades. The university recently launched its most ambitious master plan in more than 60 years, supporting it with a multiyear, $300 million fundraising campaign.

Samford offers 30 undergraduate and graduate degrees through 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. The faculty-to-student ratio is 1:12, and no classes are taught by teaching assistants.

The College of Health Sciences, launched in 2013, represents some of the most popular and growing academic programs on campus. The college combines the schools of nursing and pharmacy, both of which are more than 80 years old, with newer schools of health professions and public health. About 40 percent of the university’s students are enrolled in Health Sciences.

Samford’s economic impact on the state and region is $335 million, and it has 1, 221 employees. Its students provide about $16.5 million in volunteer services to the community.

Birmingham-Southern College

BSC is a four-year, private residential liberal arts college on a 192-acre hilltop campus just outside downtown Birmingham. It has more than 1, 300 students and offers more than 25 undergraduate majors, 25 undergraduate minors and 10 special programs. It is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

BSC was highlighted this year as one of the nation’s top schools in the 2018 Fiske Guide to Colleges, and has been included in the publication consistently for more than 15 years. It also is consistently ranked near the top in other publications such as U.S. News & World Report, Forbes and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Recently, the school and the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University have signed a memorandum of understanding to build an accelerated degree program in which students will earn a bachelor’s from BSC and a juris doctorate from Cumberland, allowing BSC students to start law school in their senior year of college.

Miles College

Miles College is a senior, private, liberal arts Historically Black College in Fairfield with roots in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. It has about 1, 700 students.

Miles offers baccalaureate programs with majors such as accounting, biology, business administration, chemistry, communications, computer and information sciences, history, language arts, criminal justice, education, English, mathematics, political science and social work. Miles offers 28 bachelor’s degree programs in six academic divisions.

Faulkner University (Birmingham campus)

Faulkner University’s Birmingham campus, open for more than 70 years, helps students earn degrees and advance their careers. Faulkner is based in Montgomery and also has campuses in Huntsville and Mobile. The Birmingham campus offers day, night, weekend and online courses to accommodate work and family schedules.

Key degree options on the Birmingham campus are business, psychology and human resources administration. Associate degrees offered include liberal arts, business, computer and information science, criminal justice, informatics and legal studies. Online degree programs also are available.

Jefferson State Community College

Jefferson State Community College, operating for more than 50 years, has four campuses and serves approximately 12, 000 students in Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Chilton counties. Jefferson State is the largest community college in central Alabama and second only to UAB in student enrollment.

Jefferson State, along with its students and alumni, added $439 million in income to its four-county service area during 2013-2014. For every dollar spent on Jefferson State, the community receives $13.10 in benefit.

Approximately 60 percent of Jefferson State students transfer to a four-year university. About one-fourth of Jefferson State students are enrolled in health programs. With more than 250 nursing graduates each year, Jefferson State is the leading producer of nursing graduates with associate degrees in Alabama.

Jefferson State offers more than 120 transfer programs, 33 career programs and several certificate programs to help fill this demand, from culinary arts and computer information systems to veterinary nursing and manufacturing technology. The college also delivers non-credit workforce training in career programs that can be completed in as little as 10 weeks. These “fast-track” programs prepare students for immediate employment opportunities.

Jefferson State is a leader in dual enrollment programs, with more than 1, 500 high school students earning college credit.

Other developments include:

  • Jefferson State culinary student Brian Duffett recently won the gold medal as the top culinary student in the nation during the SkillsUSA Culinary Competition.
  • Jefferson State recently opened a new welding lab to provide students with the latest in welding equipment for all types of industries on its Jefferson County campus.
  • Jefferson State has formed partnerships with Alabama manufacturers to help students learn work skills and help companies develop quality employees.
  • The college’s nursing program received “superior” evaluations nationally.

Lawson State Community College

Lawson State is a two-year public college that offers dozens of areas of study in college transfer and career/technical divisions. Classes are scheduled for day, evening or weekend with online options.

Lawson has campuses in southwest Birmingham and in Bessemer.

Program offerings include education, health professions, college transfer and business technology.

Lawson State also is involved in the community and in workforce development. The school offers a homeless shelter training program that provides welding, electrical and other job training to people who live in homeless shelters. It also works with adult education students who are simultaneously enrolled in a GED class and a high-tech, high-demand career tech program.

Community Development

Jefferson County is getting the job done with a streamlined workforce but is now hiring in departments that were hit hardest when the county was in bankruptcy, says Tony Petelos, county manager. One of those areas is roads and transportation, where the county is beefing up the number of employees for road maintenance and other projects.

“Our general services and roads department was hit hardest, ” Petelos says. “We’ve had to put off maintenance, and we still have a lot of vacancies to fill in other departments, too. Regardless, we will still be 1, 000 fewer people than we had before bankruptcy.”

The county learned in May that the Alabama Supreme Court upheld a bill passed by the Alabama Legislature that will enable the county to refinance outstanding school warrant debt from a tax that once was earmarked only for school system capital improvement projects. Schools were able to use that money for extensive building and other improvements for a period of time only. Without raising any taxes, the ruling allows an estimated $60 million annually to be divided up for the Jefferson County general fund (roads/transportation, economic development, court security; $36.3 million), all the school systems within the county for general operational use ($18 million), the county’s community services fund ($3.6 million), the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority ($2 million) and the Birmingham Zoo ($500, 000).

The county opened a satellite revenue office in the Hoover Court shopping center for tag renewal and other services. It also reopened its northern satellite office in Gardendale and its East Jefferson office in Center Point.

“We’re back, we’re players, we’re up and running, we’re sound, and we’ll look at how we can provide services in the most economic and professional way, ” Petelos says. “I feel better about Jefferson County than I have in decades.”

Jefferson County schools are in the third year of pre-K kindergarten, with 14 units this year. It also opened an auto tech center at Hueytown High School that serves the western area as well as other school systems. The system also is implementing restorative discipline, a new policy that makes the student more accountable and seeks a change in behavior, rather than simply administering punishment. The system is beginning a $175 million building program that will provide eight new schools and a number of renovations and additions.

The city of Birmingham, the county seat and the state’s largest city, continues to see new developments, projects that are bringing people downtown to work, live and play. Among the newest projects feeding new life into historic downtown buildings and streets include:

  • The Pizitz, a 1923 building that once was the flagship of a successful retail chain, now features six floors of residential space, a food hall featuring 14 food stalls, two full-service restaurants, a central bar and retail space. It has a courtyard and parking deck and will have modern, co-working space in the lower level.
  • Thomas Jefferson Tower, a high-rise historic hotel now offers efficiency, one- and two-bedroom apartments.
  • The three-block, $32 million Birmingham Intermodal Facility on historic Morris Avenue opened this summer, housing the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, MAX buses, Megabus, Greyhound and Amtrak.
  • The former historic Empire Hotel is now a Marriott Autograph collection hotel called the Elyton Hotel. It was built in 1909 and opened this summer with 111 rooms and six suites. The adjoining property, formerly the Alagasco headquarters, will be a Fairfield Inn and Suites, with an additional 120 rooms.
  • The Lyric Theatre has been restored and hosts events.

The city already has several new amenities, including Railroad Park downtown, ranking among the nation’s top urban green spaces; Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons baseball; a Publix supermarket on the southside; the uptown entertainment district; more new loft developments; Rotary Trail green space, and the Birmingham CrossPlex in west Birmingham.

UAB football is back, with a football operations center and pavilion being built on campus. Officials hope to build a new stadium at the BJCC, north of the Uptown district.

Birmingham will host the World Games in 2021, and the Westin hotel at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex has spurred other hotel growth. Near the Civic Center, the entertainment district is picking up more steam.

The city plans to make major improvements and additions to the Ensley area in western Jefferson County.

In the city of Hoover, part of the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area, Mayor Frank Brocato recently announced a new initiative, “Future Hoover, ” which focuses on schools, transportation, roads, economic development, city staffing, wastewater and stormwater management, facility needs and more. The city is calling for public input before developing a comprehensive master plan.

Hoover continues to attract retail and commercial development, including new housing. The city is extending Stadium Trace Parkway, leading to the new Lake Wilborn subdivision that will contain nearly 500 homes past Bumpus Middle School.

The Hoover City Council has revitalized its industrial development board to build on the city’s strong retail base but also diversify the city’s economy. The city also is working on a bicycle and pedestrian plan and is seeking public input, along with proposals to upgrade Star Lake in the Green Valley community.

The city has opened The Finley Center, a 154, 000-square-foot, $76 million facility that has 89, 000 square feet of space for sports, banquets, trade shows and other events. The center has basketball and volleyball courts, an indoor climbing center, meeting rooms and food operations. It is next to the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

Hoover schools, with 17 campuses, continue to grow and add programs, both academic and career, for its nearly 14, 000 students. Next year, the system will celebrate its 30th year of operation. The board of education recently purchased the former Riverchase Middle School property from the Pelham school board for future use, which may include housing some career and technical education programs.

The city of Bessemer in west Jefferson County earlier this year opened its new city hall to replace the old city hall that was built in 1938. The new $5.5 million city hall is three stories and houses offices for the city council, mayor, building inspections, city clerk, finance, community and economic development and IT. It also has a business guest suite and has room to expand. City employees also have a new parking lot.

Also, in 2016 Bessemer opened the doors of its first recreation center for all residents. The $15 million center hosts youth sports, baseball, softball, basketball and has an indoor pool and walking track. There also are fitness and workout areas.

It is built on the former site of Roosevelt Park and Davis Middle School. The outdoor park features baseball fields, tennis courts, a children’s playground, pavilion, amphitheater, concession stands and restrooms. More renovations and additions are planned.

Bessemer also built a new recycling center.

The city of Center Point is adding sidewalks to other areas of the city, including some leading to the recently renovated Reed-Harvey Park, says Mayor Tom Henderson. The 17-acre park has three ponds, walking trails, a senior center and more. It also is looking at redeveloping shopping centers. The city has a new high school and a new middle school and has other improvements in progress.

The city is hoping to get grants for businesses that want to upgrade their facades on Roebuck Parkway, Henderson says. The city also has been accepted to the Alabama Communities of Excellence program.

In the city of Gardendale, in north Jefferson County, construction is slated to begin in November on a UAB Freestanding Emergency Room, a Level 3 facility that will include exam rooms, triage rooms with an imaging suite, a pharmacy, lab, helipad and more. The project also includes a UAB Medical Office building. The construction is estimated at $22 million with an estimated total investment in the city of $35 million. The city has nearly 14 acres surrounding the site that is ready for further development.

A new retail and restaurant development also is in the planning stages in the city near Wal-Mart in the Odum Road and I-65 area. And Gardendale’s Kenneth A. Clemons Recreational Complex continues to add amenities, recently adding a three-mile biking and hiking trail, with plans to add a disc golf course and dog park. A skate park is set to be added in 2018. A Little Free Library, the city’s first, also opened at the complex. And the Raymond G. Doss Playground of Miracles, a $250, 000 handicap-accessible playground located adjacent to the Miracle League Baseball field, recently was built with donations from individuals, businesses and the city.

Gardendale has seen impressive growth in new home sales. Mayor Stan Hogeland says, “They are selling new homes in our newer subdivisions faster than they can build them.”

In the city of Homewood, construction will begin soon on a $15 million to $18 million public safety complex that will house the police department, jail and courts, says Mayor Scott McBrayer. The site is in west Homewood at the corner of Bagby Drive and West Valley Avenue, land owned by the city. Currently, those departments are located downtown.

“We believe this move will help economic development, ” McBrayer says. “The move is good for many reasons — it will increase safety in the area and a reinvestment in our city.” The complex should be finished sometime in 2018, he says.

Two of the city’s parks, West Homewood and Patriot Park, will have ongoing improvements, along with a new aquatic park at Patriot Park, McBrayer says. That project will cost between $3 million and $6 million.

Downtown, already the site of hotels, condos and other development, will see new retail and commercial development on 18th Street.

Homewood, frequently cited as among best places to live and raise a family, also is known for its walkability, and the city continues a plan to pave roads and add sidewalks, McBrayer says.

In the city of Mountain Brook, the first phase of the Lane Parke planned unit development is finished, says Sam Gaston, city manager. Future phases will include office and commercial development, he says, along with more infrastructure work.

The city has a new mayor, Stewart Welch III, a native of Mountain Brook who owns a financial advisory firm.

The city will work on two traffic roundabouts in Mountain Brook Village, finishing more sidewalks, a footbridge over Shades Creek in Jemison Park and is dedicating a new police and fire training center. It also plans more improvements at its athletic complex near Mountain Brook High School.

A St. Vincent’s Wellness Center is under construction in the city of Trussville in east Jefferson County, says Buddy Choate, the city’s new mayor. There are 32 acres around the center that the city hopes will be developed as well. The city also is working on a greenways project, downtown redevelopment, and Trussville City Schools recently opened a new elementary school.

The city of Vestavia Hills is developing a Community Spaces Plan for eight major areas of the city, officials say. The city is holding a series of public meetings and surveying residents, and a virtual town hall will allow residents to complete surveys, ask questions via smartphone and watch public meetings in real time.

Improvements are planned in several areas of the city:

  • At Wald Park, a new multi-purpose recreational facility, a new swimming facility and ball field complex renovation
  • Transforming the Gold’s Gym property into a community center focusing on senior and civic activities
  • In Cahaba Heights, renovations to a ball field complex and creation of a Miracle Field for special needs athletes
  • Renovations at Liberty Park’s ball field complex
  • Renovations at the old Berry High School to existing athletic facilities and create additional ones
  • In Altadena, developing recreational fields and trails

ABOVE The Lyric Theatre triumphantly reopened in 2016 after an $11.5 million renovation. It first opened Jan. 14, 1914.

Culture and Recreation


Birmingham Civil Rights District
As part of the city’s Civil Rights District — also part of the statewide Civil Rights Trail — the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute details daily life for African-Americans in the state and the nation and how dramatically different it was from the lives white people took for granted. Across from the BCRI is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church National Historic Landmark, where four young girls died from a Ku Klux Klan bombing. It is still an active church. Also across from BCRI is Kelly Ingram Park, the site of many large-scale demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, now showcasing bronze statues depicting historic events. Birmingham also is home to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, located downtown in the historic Carver Theatre. Legendary jazz greats such as Nat “King” Cole, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Erskine Hawkins are honored in this art deco museum.

Alabama Veterans Memorial
This memorial, in a park setting, includes a walkway and a courtyard with a Regiment of Columns in front of a Hall of Honor. The hall displays the names of Alabama’s veterans, from all branches of service, who died during active duty in 20th and 21st century wars.

Birmingham Holocaust Education Center
This new center preserves and shares stories of local Holocaust survivors, commemorating the Holocaust events with speakers and educational programs.

Lyric Theatre
Built in 1914, the recently restored Lyric is listed on the National Register as part of the Birmingham Downtown Retail & Theatre Historic District, offering a wider stage and closer audience.

Vulcan Park and Museum
Vulcan, the largest cast iron statue in the world, stands high atop Red Mountain and is Birmingham’s unofficial symbol. Recently restored, it has a museum at the feet with interactive exhibits.

Birmingham Zoo
The zoo is one of the state’s most popular attractions, with a rhino encounter, giraffe feedings, a lorikeet aviary, the Predator Zone and the Sea Lion Splash Show. The zoo includes a children’s area with a petting zoo, merry-go-round and splash pad.

McWane Science Center
McWane sports four floors of hands-on exhibits and an IMAX Dome Theatre, with exhibits from dinosaurs to space travel.

Barber Motorsports Museum
Home to the world’s best motorcycle collection, the museum houses more than 1, 200 vintage and modern motorcycles and racecars, Lotus cars and other significant makes. It is adjacent to Barber Motorsports Park, a 2.3-mile road course and home to the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama.

Alabama Splash Adventure Waterpark
Formerly Alabama Adventure, the new Splash Adventure Waterpark has features for many ages including activities especially for younger children.

Birmingham Museum of Art
The museum boasts one of the finest collections in the Southeast, with more than 24, 000 objects from Asian, European, American, African, Native American and Pre-Columbian cultures.

Red Mountain Park
Red Mountain Park is one of the city’s newest attractions, with 12 miles of hiking and biking trails, zip lines, a treetop challenge course and many other rope courses, a dog park and more.

Railroad Park
This 19-acre green space in downtown Birmingham celebrates the industrial and artistic heritage of the city. It is a great venue for local recreation, family activities, concerts and cultural events. The Birmingham Barons play at Regions Field, which is in Railroad Park.

Rickwood Field
Rickwood is the oldest baseball park in the United States. The 107-year-old field is one of only two original Negro League home fields still standing, and is the site of the Rickwood Classic each year featuring the Birmingham Barons.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
This event at Barber Motorsports Park is the only Indy Series event in the Deep South.

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
Oxmoor Valley and Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa are the Golf Trail’s Birmingham area features, in a region that supports a variety of public and private golf.

Market at Pepper Place
Established in 2000 to help small family farms and create a connection between farmers and Birmingham residents, the Market has grown to more than 100 tents spread across parking lots and streets around Pepper Place — all local vendors. The market also is now year-round.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Located in the heart of the city, this 67-acre botanical garden includes more than 10, 000 different plants in 25 themed areas. It also has more than 30 works of original outdoor sculpture and miles of walking paths. Its Japanese Gardens is home to a traditionally crafted tea house.

Birmingham Race Course
Live greyhound racing is offered at this course in east Birmingham. Simulcast greyhound and horse racing also is available, along with a driving range, billiards, darts and more.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Center
Ruffner is a 1, 011-acre nature preserve close to Birmingham. It offers hiking trails through a Southern upland forest, bird viewing, and a visitor center.

Arlington Antebellum Home and Garden
This Greek Revival-style home was built between 1845 and 1850 and predates the founding of Birmingham in 1871. The city’s only antebellum home, it is fully restored and showcases a collection of antiques and decorative arts.

Alabama Theatre
Built in 1927, the Alabama is one of the nation’s last operating movie palaces, featuring first-run and revival films, concerts and other special events.

Aldridge Botanical Gardens
The gardens encompass 30 acres in the city of Hoover and showcase hydrangeas and native plants. The gardens include a walking trail around a six-acre lake.

Moss Rock Preserve
This 250-acre nature preserve in Hoover is filled with rock outcroppings, streams, waterfalls and wildlife. It is ideal for hiking, picnics and other outdoor activities. It is the home of the annual Moss Rock Festival.

Alabama Sports Hall of Fame
This museum in downtown Birmingham adjacent to the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center has more than 5, 000 sports artifacts displayed in a 33, 000-square-foot home for heroes. Displays include memorabilia from the late University of Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, a tribute to Olympic great Jesse Owens and more.

Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum
The Negro Southern League was formed in 1920 by a group of African-American businessmen and baseball enthusiasts and lasted until 1951. It served as a feeder route for many great black baseball players. The museum presents the history of African-American baseball with displays including a Satchel Paige uniform.

Sloss Furnaces
Sloss is a 32-acre blast furnace plant where iron was made for more than 100 years. It is now a museum of history and industry and preserves a collection of machinery, buildings and industrial structures.

Southern Museum of Flight
This museum shares the rich stories of Southern aviation. It includes Korean War jets, the Tuskegee Airmen diorama, the Lake Murray B-25 and Vietnam War helicopters.

Birmingham CrossPlex
This multi-purpose athletic and meeting facility in Birmingham has a six-lane oval hydraulic track and eight 60-meter lanes for sprint/hurdle events. The facility also features a 50-meter indoor Olympic swimming pool.


Do Dah Day
Fun for people and pets each May in historic Highland Park. The event raises money for local animal charities.

Veterans Day Parade
Regarded as among the oldest and sometimes longest Veteran’s Day parade in the nation, the festivities marked their 60th anniversary this year.

Magic City Art Connection
Held each April in Linn Park in downtown Birmingham, the festival features art, music, food, wine and craft beer, dance and workshops for kids.

Sidewalk Film Festival
Filmmakers come from across the country to screen their work at this August festival. It is part of the Alabama Moving Image Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging filmmaking in Alabama and building audiences for independent film.

Sloss Music & Arts Festival
Bands, beer, arts and some iron history are featured at this July festival at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham.

Mercedes-Benz Marathon Weekend
Billed as the city’s premier marathon weekend, this February event includes a marathon, a half-marathon, relay, 5K and a kids’ marathon. It raises funds for the Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs.

Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival
This free two-day music festival each August features local, regional and nationally renowned jazz artists, plus arts and kids activities.

This annual two-day festival in September transforms Birmingham’s loft neighborhood into an arts district, featuring the work of more than 100 visual artists, live musicians, street performers, food and drink vendors and children’s activities.

Art on the Rocks
In its 10th season, the Birmingham Museum of Art festival offers art, performances, sake tasting, contemporary dance and more. The event showcases the talents of emerging artists, musicians, chefs, animators and more.

Greek Food Festival
This popular festival at Birmingham’s Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral features Greek food, music and dancing and a Greek market.

Lori Chandler Pruitt is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

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