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What’s Next For Downtown?

B-School Jpg for Eventbrite

Get tickets at eventbrite.com

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bhm-biz-breakfast-seminar-series-whats-next-for-downtown-tickets-35729094684?aff=es2

Cool Spaces

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Design Therapy

Listening to the client is just what the doctor ordered.

Photography by Dan Taylor

Listening is central to the physician’s art, so when bDot Architecture Inc. designed the headquarters building for American Family Care, listening played an equally crucial role.

“Listening to the client at the very beginning of a project, before any work is done, is absolutely the most important part of our process,” says Brian Roberson, AIA  LEED BD+C  IIDA, principal of the Birmingham architectural firm. “Yes, it’s listening to the functional requirements, budget and needs that the building is required to meet, but equally important is listening for ‘who’ the client is.  This type of listening involves more than just hearing words but involves seeing how they work, what they do, but most importantly who they are.” CORPORATE-3142-7-Executive-Entrance

“As a studio, the first thing we do for each project is openly verbalize or draw what our own predispositions are. It doesn’t matter what type of project it is. Whether a building, piece of furniture, a product or piece of artwork, getting our own bias out in the open, almost like a confession, is a critical part to clear the way for the creative process. Another aspect of the process that we have come to realize is that it is not something where we say ok; we are going to meet at 1 p.m. this afternoon to design this project. Once we put all of the information in our brains, there is a time where it simmers in the background of our minds while we work on other things. Then out of nowhere, one of us will grab a pen and paper, piece of cardboard, wood, metal, something from the trash can, whatever, and start the discussion which often turns into a whirlwind of ideas and concepts that are then sorted and parsed for what we’ve heard from the client,” Roberson says.CORPORATE-3142-3-Conference-RoomThe client in this case has a remarkable record of growth in the healthcare industry. In 1982, D. Bruce Irwin, M.D. opened the first American Family Care Clinic (AFC) in Birmingham. All AFC clinics are designed, equipped and staffed to provide accessible primary care, urgent care, minor emergency treatment, and occupational medicine. AFC pioneered the concept of non-emergency-room urgent care, resulting in an average patient visit of about an hour from registration to discharge. Underlying this efficiency is a high-tech, high-touch approach—including digital x-rays, on-site lab testing, state-of-the-art diagnostics, electronic medical records, and well-trained teams of medical professionals. By the end of 2017, AFC will operate more than 200 facilities in 26 states, and care for more than two million patients a year. During the next five years, the company expects to have more than 500 urgent care clinics across the U.S. on its path to becoming one of the most widely known and admired brands in health care.CORPORATE-3142-1-Lobby

“So for the AFC Corporate Office, we met and listened to Dr. Irwin describe not only the needs of the building but also listened to his passion about providing a needed medical service to people. It really is more than a business to him. He shared with us AFC’s mission statement which speaks to all of this, so that is where we started,” Roberson says.

To ingrain the company’s identity into this project, the mission statement and vision of AFC was interpreted in a dot-dash pattern and organized into a DNA profile-type sequence which was then used to guide the design of the reception desk and taken throughout the project (down to the windows, carpet and tile) as a subtle form of ornamentation, thus allowing the pattern to have both a practical and symbolic language. As another symbolic gesture addressing the company’s commitment to people, the graphic behind the reception desk is created using thousands of individual faces, with employee faces forming the AFC logo.

High Flyers

HEADSHOT

Sloss Tech

Billed as  the Southeast’s Preeminent Technology and Creative Tech Festival, Sloss Tech returns this July with a lineup of nationally known speakers as well as city-based tech execs and entrepreneurs. The one-day event takes place July 14, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The Lyric Theatre downtown.

This year’s featured speakers are Casey Neistat and Tiki Barber.HEADSHOT

Casey Neistat is an American film director, producer, developer, and creator of popular YouTube videos. Neistat attained commercial success with the HBO series “The Neistat Brothers” and indie film Daddy Longlegs. With 10 years of experience in creating TV commercials, Neistat took his storytelling ability and married it with his commercial experience to re-define branded content on the Internet with companies such as Mercedes and Nike. Most recently, Neistat’s technology company, Beme, was acquired by CNN.

Tiki Barber is a 1997 graduate of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce (Phi Eta SigmTiki-Barber-Headshota Honor Society), with a concentration in Management Information Systems. He completed a 10 year NFL career with the New York Giants. Tiki Barber joined Marshall Faulk and Marcus Allen as the only players in NFL history with at least 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving in a career.

Tiki serves as co-host of CBS Sports Radio’s national afternoon show, Tiki & Tierney, which is also simulcast on CBS Sports Network. He is also an entrepreneur, co-founding Thuzio, Inc., the world’s most comprehensive software and service solution for talent procurement. Julius is Thuzio’s SaaS product providing a complete view of the commercial profiles for celebrities and influencers.

Tiki has co-authored, with his twin brother, Ronde, three successful children’s books and eight young-adult novels. He also has published a memoir about his playing days entitled, Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond. 

Coffee With . . .

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Coffee With . . .

Mike Dunnavant, The Wine Loft and Michael Mullis, Kelley & Mullis Wealth Management

Coffee and conversation at Octane

Michael Mullis is the managing partner and wealth manager at Kelley & Mullis Wealth Management. Directly after college graduation, Mullis followed in his father’s footsteps beginning a career in accounting. After two years in public accounting with Arthur Andersen, Mullis made the decision to switch careers after a chance meeting with Oley Kelley, the founder of Kelley & Associates. Kelley & Mullis formed an instant friendship, with Kelley offering him a position with his firm in October of 1999. Under Kelley’s mentorship, along with many hours of training with fellow advisor James Kyzer, Mullis quickly found his place within the firm and was named partner in April 2002.

In 2010, Mullis was named managing partner, transitioning the firm to Kelley & Mullis Wealth Management, honoring Oley Kelley—the man who believed in him from the beginning. Kelley & Mullis Wealth Management has been recognized by several organizations for dedication and service to clients. Recognition includes: Ranked in America’s Top 1,200 Financial Advisors by Barron’s magazine in 2015, 2016; Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 under 40 in 2011; and Top 50 Financial Advisors in Alabama in 2015 and 2016.

Mullis holds a Business Administration degree from Samford University and a Masters of Accounting from UAB. 

What is your greatest business opportunity and what is your greatest business challenge?

“I think one of the greatest opportunities we have is with the middle-class retiree. So many firms are only interested in what is called the high-net-worth individual. But middle-class baby boomers are at retirement age now. This is a group that I have always enjoyed working with and which is very under-serviced in the investment world. Many companies just don’t target this group, but being able to work with an actual financial advisor would be so valuable for them. I view that as a real opportunity for us,” Mullis says.

“One of the greatest challenges that we as a small firm face lies in actually running the business from an administrative viewpoint. I need a very good support staff around me to help the business keep up with changes in technology and just everyday administration of the business.”

After 24 years in the computer industry working first in the technical area and then in network sales, Mike Dunnavant left technology behind for a seemingly less hectic life, buying Maui Wowi Smoothie and Boardwalk Fries franchises. He describes both of those businesses as very successful but also very labor intensive.  “Since my wife and I were married in Napa Valley, when we saw the opportunity to open The Wine Loft in downtown Birmingham, we jumped on it and sold the other businesses. We love The Wine Loft because it is an upscale wine bar, with a sophisticated, relaxed environment,” Dunnavant says. 

Originally, The Wine Loft was a franchise, but Dunnavant’s location separated from the franchise in 2010 and has been running totally independently ever since. They offer a selection of over 70 wines by the glass and 200+ by the bottle, from around the world, complemented by a gourmet tapas food menu. The fully stocked liquor bar and selection of beer—both draft and bottle—round out the offerings.

What is your greatest business opportunity and what is your greatest business challenge?

“Oddly, I see my biggest opportunity and biggest challenge coming from the same direction, the growth of downtown Birmingham. When The Wine Loft opened in 2007, downtown after dark was pretty much a ghost town. Most of our customers were coming to us as a destination. In the last five or so years, we have seen a tremendous revitalization of our immediate surroundings in the Loft District, and the growth around Railroad Park is mind boggling. As many of our neighbors have noted, it used to be you had to look for something to do. Now, you have to decide what not to do.  

“All of this activity has greatly increased the foot traffic in and around our business, which is opportunity.  Conversely, all of this traffic is seen by others as opportunity and they have seized upon it. When we opened, there were two bars and two restaurants within a two block radius of us. Today, there are six restaurants with two more opening this year, eight bars, and an event hall within that same area. 

“So the opportunity is increased traffic and the challenge is increased competition. Thankfully, we have a good reputation and a niche in the level of wine offerings. With these attributes that help capture new business, a loyal group of downtown loft dwellers and the growth of our event related business, we are on solid ground,” Dunnavant says.

Park It Here

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Park It Here 

Locally made bike racks make it cool to reconsider the daily commute.   

By Rosalind Fournier

 

When does a piece of bent metal become a friend to the environment?

 

small-IMG_7517When it’s a bike rack. Designed for installation almost anywhere, the bike racks made by LOCAL Bicycle Racks are space efficient, functional works of art that encourage people to bike to work, to their favorite coffee shop or anywhere else they might otherwise drive.

Homewood-based industrial designer Foster Phillips first turned his eye to designing bike racks back in 2009. An avid cyclist himself, he started with a selfish goal—to make it easier to park his own bike as he traveled around town.

IMG_7472He knew he wasn’t alone. “We have plenty of people who ride bikes in our community,” Phillips says, “but the cycling infrastructure is not as good as it could be.”

He could see why. For one, a lot of people associate bike racks with the galvanized behemoths from back in elementary school—not so cool for professionals who commute to work, and not very workable for businesses with limited space to commit. Phillips has also seen a lot of what he considers flawed designs, mainly because they aren’t user friendly.

“We wanted to make something better,” he says.

Phillips spent hours at the Bici Bicycle Cooperative working on designs. Once he was satisfied, he found local craftsmen to build some prototypes—D. Brooks Bending to bend the pipe into the right shapes, Caroll Machine and Welding Company to trim them and weld the racks onto their base plates, and finally Pablo’s Custom Powder Coating to create a smooth finish.

The first one was ready in 2010, and LOCAL Bicycle Racks was born. As a side project for Phillips, the business grew slowly, but he found an early supporter in CommuteSmart Birmingham, which was created in 1999 by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of commuting including carpooling, walking, using public transit and—of course—bicycling. Realizing they shared a common mission, CommuteSmart—which is federally funded—has been instrumental in getting LOCAL racks installed at area businesses. “Without CommuteSmart I don’t think LOCAL would exist today,” Phillips says. “They have been a great partner for the city and for local bike racks as well.”

He says the businesses benefit, too. “They might not need parking for 100 bikes, but they might want to have parking for two or four bikes at a time,” Phillips explains. “And the racks that will hold two bikes or four bikes are easy to place, they’re convenient, and we try to make them very colorful, too. That’s intentional—one, to make them visible, and two, the hope is that if people notice the racks maybe that will plant a little seed in their minds: ‘Oh, I could ride my bike here next time instead of driving and looking for a parking place.’”

Still, for years it has been a labor of love for Phillips on a fairly small scale. Then about two years ago, he received a query that has sent production—and exposure of his product—soaring. The client? The University of Alabama at Birmingham. “They had bike racks, but there were maybe 10 different types of racks throughout campus and some were good but some were not as good. So they said, ‘We need a unified experience for bike racks at UAB.’” I worked with them to create a custom design, and they ended up ordering 250 racks to put throughout campus.”

It’s all given Phillips a new sense of pride and ownership in his hometown, as he bikes around and enjoys the fruits of his own labor. “Most of the time these are public installations, and they’ll be there for a pretty long time,” Phillips explains. “So it’s neat to go back and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that one.’”

And Then This Happened . . .

this happened

Written by Carolanne Roberts

John Montgomery, founder and president of Big Communications

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BORN & RAISED 

“I’m a West-Side boy, the only man in my family not to work at U.S. Steel. A graduate of Midfield High School.” UAB to study public relations came next.

QUICK START john 2

Clubhouse boy for Birmingham Barons, age 14. Birmingham Bulls front office with announcer/PR director Eli Gold, age 15. Then to legendary concert promoters Gary Weinberger/Tony Ruffino (first gig: security at a Def Leppard concert). At ad firm Barry Huey Bullock and Cook, age 18, managed the City Stages festival promotions for years.

TAKING CHARGE

Started Big Communications in 1995, age 27. “I worked from my loft on Morris Avenue — and just went after it.”

SCOPE OF WORK

Digital, content marketing, creative, media, public relations, and video.

CHAPTER TWO

Growth starting around 2007 with addition of Ford Wiles, chief creative officer and main partner, and Mark Ervin, chief brand officer. Total team now: 70+.

AWARDS   

American Ad Federation Birmingham Chapter Silver Medal, 2011; Ad Age Small Agency of the Year, 2013, among many.

BIG STEP     

“The Ad Age award was a coming out party for us with national brands.” As a result, Valvoline found Big, launching an almost three-years-and-counting relationship. “It’s been good for our collective brains, and they’re nice human beings.”

SHARING    

On start-up team for Black & White magazine; has donated support to National Veteran’s Day Parade, Vulcan Park, Birmingham Museum of Art, Sidewalk Film Festival, Sloss Fest and others. Big created the names REV and ZYP.

JOHN’S BIRMINGHAM    

Second Avenue (home of Big), Feast & Forest, El Barrio (“Big’s cafeteria”), and Chez Fon Fon with its bocce court (“my favorite table in Birmingham”). Also music venues Iron City, Saturn and The Nick.

ESCAPE    

His Straight Creek Farm in Dekalb County with wife, Leigh Anne, and young sons, Hans and John. “I seem like a city slicker, but on weekends, I’m not.”

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT JOHN “I’m a big Francophile. If I disappear, I’ll be beside the pool at La Columbe d’Or in Saint-Paul de Vence, my favorite place on earth.”

Topgolf already helping lure conventions to Birmingham

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A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

 

By Michael Tomberlin

The executive director of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex said Topgolf isn’t set to open until later this year, but the entertainment venue’s charms are already working for the Magic City.

Nighttime-Tee-Line-GolferTad Snider spoke to BirminghamCREW at its monthly meeting Tuesday, giving an update on Topgolf and how it fits in with current and future BJCC expansion plans.

“Just knowing (Topgolf) is coming has helped us land two conventions already,” Snider told the commercial real estate organization.

Snider said assembling two city blocks, or more than 10 acres, for the project was no easy feat. Being able to provide 425 dedicated parking spaces was also a challenge.

But the hard work is worth it with such a popular attraction, he said.

“It’s really exciting for what we see as kind of the next logical expansion of the Uptown footprint and then just as an available offsite amenity, an additional tool for us in recruiting conventions and meetings,” Snider said. “We’re just really excited about what it’s going to bring in terms of creating the growth of the BJCC and a great community asset.”

The Topgolf announcement in December followed the release in August of last year of renovation and expansion concepts of the BJCC. The proposed changes would give a major facelift to the existing BJCC complex and add a football stadium on the four blocks bordered by Uptown and Topgolf.

A decision on the direction of the expansion should come this year, Snider said.

“Of course, right across the street (from Topgolf) is the future expansion development site of the BJCC,” he said. “We’re just really hopeful that some of the ideas being talked about for those four blocks are beginning to come together. We’re hopeful that sometime in 2017 we really know what’s going to happen there. It’s going to be really exciting for the community and for the BJCC and our future as well.”

He said the reaction from the renovation and expansion plans has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Sometimes you have to paint a picture of what can be,” he said.

Renovations of the interior and exterior of the BJCC could cost close to $100 million, Snider said. There are no estimates on the proposed open-air stadium because it remains a concept and not an actual construction project.

Ongoing improvements to bridges and overpasses of Interstates 20, 59 and 65 at the BJCC will create access problems in the coming months. Snider said it would be wise to use that downtime to make some of the improvements to the existing BJCC.

Miller’s Pottery

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A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

Miller’s Pottery

 

By Tommy Black

170401_MillersPottery130Not many families have their own entry in the “Encyclopedia of Alabama” –  but the history of Steve Miller’s folks takes up a couple of pages. That’s because they’ve been making some of the South’s best pottery for more than 150 years.

The sixth generation of Millers to work with clay, Steve grew up watching his father and grandfather turn pottery wheels and tell family stories.

“Francis Lacoste, my great-great-great-grandfather, came from France to the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in the 1830s and started making pottery,” Miller said. “Before plastic came along, folks relied on stoneware pots, cookware and other items, so every community had its own potter.”

Lacoste’s daughter married Abraham Miller, and he took the family north to Perry County in the 1880s. There they crafted pottery for another 80 years, until Steve’s grandfather, Hendon Miller, moved the business to its current location just south of Brent in the 1960s.

170401_MillersPottery032“A natural gas line had just been installed along Highway 5, and my grandfather used the gas to heat the kilns,” Miller said. “That was a lot easier than the old way of doing it by burning pine knots.”

Although other modern innovations – including propane heated kilns and electric pottery wheels (replacing the original foot-powered ones) have come along – Miller and his father, Eric Miller, still produce elegant and utilitarian glazed items in much the same way as their predecessors.

“It’s very hard work, getting the clay, putting it on a wheel and making a piece,” Miller said. “And you have to keep up with demand. Most of my grandfather’s business was making flower pots for individuals and nurseries. The introduction of cheap plastic pots killed that demand – so my father and I went back to our roots by making things like candle dishes, pitchers, face jugs and collectible pieces. We’re trying to bring Miller’s Pottery back to a full-time business.”

The Millers sell their products on Miller’s Facebook page, in their studio (still on Highway 5), and at craft fairs such as Kentuck. They’ve exhibited their works at galleries around the state, and at the Smithsonian’s American Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., and the Alabama Clay Conference in Birmingham.

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Miller isn’t the only family member to learn his craft from his father and grandfather. His cousin, Allen Ham, trained in the shop while growing up and now creates and sells his own unique pottery in Marion.

“Allen is a master potter. I learned a lot from watching him,” Miller said.

And another Miller potter may be in the making.

“My wife and I had a baby, Hendon River, a few months ago,” Miller said. “I hope he’ll be the seventh generation. But that’s up to him, because this is a lifelong thing – I’ve been making pottery most of my life, and I’m still learning.”

The Maker: Steve Miller

The Product:

Glazed pottery, including candle dishes, drinking glasses, shot glasses, face jugs, flower pots and cookware, such as bowls and platters. The cookware is microwave, oven and dishwasher safe.

Take home:

A one-of-a-kind face jug (from $50 to $200).

The details:

2324 Highway 5, Brent AL 35034

www.facebook.com/stevemillerpottery

 

 

Alabama Makers explores the artisans, crafts people, carpenters, cooks, bakers, blacksmiths, designers and others making original and extraordinary items in our state. If you know an Alabama Maker, let us know at alnewscenter@outlook.com.

Melt and more: Gourmet grilled cheese helped revive a Birmingham neighborhood

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A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

 

By Susan Swagler

DSC_3998From grilled cheese to craft cocktails, Harriet Reis and Paget Pizitz offer people plenty of delicious reasons to hang out in hip Avondale. Together and separately, they own four establishments that are invigorating this Birmingham neighborhood with its exciting and fast-growing restaurant and bar scene.

The two women are partners in Melt, which specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches of all sorts, and in Fancy’s on 5th, an oyster dive and burger bar. Pizitz also owns Hot Diggity Dogs, home to some of the most inventive hot dogs in town, and The Marble Ring speakeasy with its time-travel 1920s vibe.

It all started in 2011 with a food truck named Matilda.

Reis’s restaurant experience included Ocean and 26, which she co-founded. Pizitz moved back to her hometown from New York City in 2009 and wanted to follow in her family’s entrepreneurial footsteps and open some sort of retail business.

Their first collaboration was a fundraising gala, which Reis was chairing. She Facebook messaged Pizitz asking her to help. “We started talking about our passions and what we wanted to do in life,” Reis says. “Come to find out, she wanted to be a restaurant owner, and I wanted to get back into the business.”

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Figuring that a food truck would let them test a grilled cheese concept without a huge investment, the two teamed up with chef Joey Dickerson, and they all hit the road – Pizitz and Dickerson inside the truck making sandwiches, Reis out front with customers.

Dickerson still works with the women today as the executive chef at both Melt and Fancy’s on 5th, and he occasionally drives Matilda, too.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that Joey, Paget and I are still in partnership together,” Reis says. “We respect Joey tremendously and trust that he’s going to make the most incredible food.”DSC_3928

Avondale wasn’t on Matilda’s original route, but the neighborhood has become their home base, and they couldn’t be happier.  When they first bought into the area, Avondale Brewing Company and Saw’s Soul Kitchen were about the only businesses there. Reis says she originally was looking to open somewhere over the mountain south of Birmingham.

“I made her come down here one day,” Pizitz says. “I knew she would see it, too, when she saw a Saturday. There are people from 1 to 100. You’ve got the mom and the dad and they’re walking around and want to have drinks on a Saturday and they also have kids and they have dogs, so what do you do? You bring them all to Avondale, and everybody’s welcome. It’s a city. It’s a neighborhood. It’s everything.”

Birmingham’s Innovation Depot sets new highs in 2016

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A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

IDHEROBy Michael Tomberlin

A business incubator’s ultimate goal is to help young startups grow so strong that they are able to graduate and leave the nest.

By that measure, Birmingham’s Innovation Depot had its best year ever in 2016 with a record 17 graduates.

Another good measure of how those companies are doing is their ability to hire workers. There again, Innovation Depot companies set a new high with 870 jobs.

While all of the other measures weren’t exactly records, the $126 million in gross sales and $19.9 million in funding among 102 companies were still among the top years for Innovation Depot.

The figure that consistently trends upward is the five-year economic impact total, climbing from $1.38 billion in 2015 to $1.42 billion in 2016.

“When you combine these companies and you think about 870 jobs in one building, $1.42 billion in economic impact, over $19 million in capital raised, that’s significant,” Innovation Depot CEO Devon Laney said. “That’s a Fortune 500-level organization. To have that kind of impact all driven by early-stage, startup companies, entrepreneurs in the technology space, I think is a real positive for our community.”

Another positive sign, Laney said, is that graduates of Innovation Depot want to set up business in Birmingham – most of them in downtown.

“The great thing, too, is that so many of these companies now are wanting to stay close,” he said. “They’re wanting to stay in the area around Innovation Depot, which we’ve always known was the case, but to see it now begin to actually happen and to build that critical mass – you’re really seeing the development now of a true technology district around Innovation Depot, which is part of the broader Innovate Birmingham initiative that we’ve been working on over the last number of months.”

Innovation Depot also continued to expand beyond incubation – taking a greater role in worker training and development.

Its Depot U concept of a boot camp for coding and IT skills not only spawned a new company, Covalence, but was a key component in Birmingham being awarded a $6 million Department of Labor grant. Birmingham Regional Workforce Partnership is using those millions to train young adults for 925 high-paying technology-focused jobs.

“We really continued the evolution of our organization,” Laney said. “Business incubation is always the cornerstone of what we do, but we continue to evolve and be a real catalyst in the community for entrepreneurial development, technology-based economic development.”

Innovation Depot also launched the Velocity Accelerator program in 2016. More than 100 applicants from across the country and around the world applied for the 10–member inaugural class. The class was announced in December and started the 12-week program in January. It concluded with Demo Day at Iron City recently.

Opinion – Mark Singletary

MS mugshotI moved to Birmingham about a month ago. Moving to a new town isn’t such a big deal for me because I’ve moved a lot in my life. Birmingham is the 12th market that I have lived and worked in during my career. Moving to a new city means getting to meet lots of new people, but I admit there is a time of acclimation and adjustment that goes with any move.

There was a time lag from when I first arrived in town and until my job at BHM BIZ started and I needed something to do. So, following the advice of one of my daughters, I applied with Uber to be one of their drivers.

The process is simple. A prospective Uber driver must have a valid driver’s license, a decent vehicle, adequate insurance and a smart phone. With all four requirements verified, Uber approved me as a driver, wished me well and challenged me to get out on the streets of Birmingham and be available to pick up fares and deliver them safely to their chosen destination.

There was no orientation. There were no warnings. There wasn’t even a primer on how to use the smart phone app. I figured that was part of the strategy. If a new driver isn’t smart enough to figure how to install and use the app, then Uber really didn’t want them ferrying customers all over town.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous when I first turned on the app and went online. How long would it take to get my first customer? The answer: about five minutes.

When the phone dinged, I knew it was real. Someone was asking me to take them somewhere in my car, in a city I really didn’t know very well. Turns out the Uber folks have things pretty well figured out. They have a direction lady reading the map and giving out instructions; I call her Ubie.

My first fare could not have worked out any better. The customer was a very nice lady that was pretty excited when I told her she was my first rider. She wished me well and gave me a five-star rating.

I drove steadily for a couple of weeks, but then I started my job here, so I’ve cut back on Uber time to an evening or two on the weekends. It’s actually pretty entertaining.

But, that’s enough about my experience in the new gig economy, let’s concentrate on my new role at BHM BIZ and how excited I am to be a part of this publication.

I’ve been involved in business-to-business publishing for almost 20 years. I’ve worked for and managed business journals and magazines in Oklahoma City, New Orleans, New York and lots of other markets. It’s probably stating the obvious, but the best way to ensure that any local news organization has a vibrant, profitable future is to make certain that the publication is relevant, responsible and vital to the readers and advertisers that it serves.

Although simply stated, those goals aren’t easily attained. It takes a lot of work, several good plans and a diligent commitment to make it happen. It also takes a great team. A good business plan funds the effort and makes it possible to hire the best journalists.

While we have to have an eye on the future and all the changes that magazines are dealing with, we must develop a current strategy that maximizes existing revenues and prudently manages expenses. Again, that’s a simplistic overview of a complex challenge, but it is really what we have to do to survive.

Being a thought leader for our business community is perhaps the purest definition of what a magazine like ours can and should be. I’ll be working hard to ensure we do it well.

General Manager