Birmingham swept the Alabama Launchpad business startup competition this most recent round, as both the concept track winner (Pointz) and the seed stage winner (O3 Solution) are both based in the Magic City. The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) spoke with Pointz founder and CEO Andrew Petrovics and O3 Solution CEO Josh Girvin about their respective wins and how Birmingham has shaped their company.
In its work to advance workforce and build a solid talent pipeline, it has become obvious to Central Six executive director Antiqua Cleggett that workforce development and economic development are inextricably linked.
At 105 years old, Wood Fruitticher Grocery Company has seen a few successions in management. Sometimes succession was pure accident. In the most recent transition, however, John and Dave Wood decided to take control of the company’s destiny, rather than waiting for lightning to strike.
More movies are being made in Birmingham, and that means a substantial economic impact for the city.
With production value in Birmingham totaling roughly $18 million to $20 million, that translates into about $600,000 to $700,000 in local tax revenue, in addition to money spent in Birmingham for hotel or apartment rentals for the cast and crew, vehicle and equipment rentals and meals eaten at local restaurants or catered by local caterers.
As more films come Birmingham’s way, there could be a growing need for new businesses to accommodate the industry, said Buddy Palmer, president and CEO of Create Birmingham. Create Birmingham is charged with recruiting incoming productions to Birmingham and, once the productions have chosen the city, to roll out the welcome mat and serve as the first line of communication the filmmakers have with the Birmingham community.
“There is a substantial impact [on Birmingham’s economy],” he said. “There is an ecosystem of small businesses that work around film. As we move forward and get more and more consistent work, new businesses will be able to launch that cater to the market.”
Celebrities like John Travolta have been making Birmingham their temporary home as they film movies in the Magic City. Travolta is currently filming his second film in a row in Birmingham, a Fred Durst-directed project called Moose. Travolta wrapped the film Trading Paint in Birmingham last fall and it is currently in post-production. Moose also stars former teen heartthrob Devon Sawa and is directed by Durst, the former frontman of the popular rock group Limp Bizkit.
State film incentives are likely the cause of Birmingham’s recent film boom, Palmer said. The incentives, along with the preservation of so many historic buildings downtown and the ability for directors and cinematographers to find urban, suburban and rural landscapes in close proximity, make Birmingham a hotbed for Hollywood.
“Birmingham is the canvas,” Palmer said. “Birmingham is architecturally diverse and offers ease of movement.”
Feature films, documentaries, music videos, web series and commercials have filmed here, Palmer said.
Palmer credits brothers Andy and Jon Erwin, filmmakers who work primary in the faith-based genre and have made movies such as Woodlawn, October Baby and Mom’s Night Out in Birmingham, for employing local crew members on their films. The local crew base has grown so competent that films that come to town use mostly local crews rather than flying them in. This creates an additional 50 to 150 jobs every time a production comes to town, which is happening more and more consistently.
“Consistent film work in Birmingham builds quality and allows crew to improve at their craft,” Palmer said. “It’s full-time work, and even though they are moving from project to project, they are pursuing their craft.”
Filmmakers are impressed by the city’s hospitality and its food, Palmer said, calling meals eaten here some of the best they’ve ever had.
The cast and crew of Moose filmed last week outside of downtown restaurant Brick and Tin. Server Amy Vines said she noticed more people flocking to the area. Customers chose to eat at Brick and Tin, specifically outside, so they could catch a glimpse of Travolta and Durst filming.
“It definitely drew more people to this area,” she said. “It was a scene.”
And this moviemaking trend shows no signs of stopping. Palmer and his team are working on a film now for late spring or early summer, and there is the potential of a series from a major cable network to be shot in town soon.
“The momentum continues to improve,” Palmer said. “We are just scratching the surface on awareness of Birmingham as a good destination and a cool place to spend a couple of months of time.”
By Rachel Burchfield/BBA
Many great business ideas stem from seeing a need for improvement. The story of Fleetio, a Birmingham-born company, begins there.
Fleetio builds fleet management and GPS tracking software with the goal of helping fleets in any industry and any size track, analyze and improve fleet operations.
The company has quadrupled its number of employees in three years and are currently hiring more. Last May, Fleetio graduated from Innovation Depot and moved into its own space in downtown Birmingham.
But long before the company’s formation in 2012, there was a need for improvement. Fleetio founder Tony Summerville worked his summers as a kid for his dad, who is president of Inline Electric Supply. Inline had a fleet and Summerville became interested in how the company’s fleet management operations could be improved, specifically through software development.
“I started thinking through the types of things that were important in a business like that and the fleet was one of those things,” he said. “It interested me enough to keep researching it and talking to other businesses, getting the lay of the land.”
After an exorbitant amount of research, Fleetio launched six years ago. The company works with any company that has a fleet of vehicles, which Fleetio calls “rolling assets.” Their diverse fleet makeup covers industries from construction to service providers like carpet cleaners and landscapers. Fleets range in size from five to 10 to thousands.
Fleetio currently offers two products: Fleetio Manage and Fleetio Drive. Fleetio Manage is the all-in-one fleet management software that can, for example, log odometer readings or how much the driver paid at the pump for gas. The newer Fleetio Drive, launched a year ago, can track the fleet’s drivers and monitor their safety through iPhone and Android mobile devices. Is the driver texting while driving? What routes do drivers take on a daily basis?
Fleetio is currently in 55 countries and is differentiated by its modern approach – Fleetio is more mobile compared to older web-based solutions – and is known worldwide for its customer relations.
“We take customer feedback very seriously,” said Lori Sullivan, Fleetio’s marketing director. “We get a lot of feedback from customers and it actually gets implemented on the product side. Our customers get delight out of that, that we take our feedback seriously. The customer experience is something we focus on heavily.”
Sullivan said Fleetio is in “hypergrowth mode.” Since her arrival at the company three years ago, the business has boomed from six or seven employees to now employing 30, with a handful of jobs currently open.
In addition to personnel expansion and a facility change in the last year, Fleetio continues to move the needle forward in the technology sector, said Devon Laney, president and CEO of Innovation Depot.
“We are impressed with Fleetio’s continued growth, not just in personnel, but in the scope of their business,” Laney said. “The innovative solution Fleetio brings to fleet management is really moving the entire industry forward and we are so proud to have them as an Innovation Depot graduate.”
About half of the staff is at Fleetio’s headquarters in downtown Birmingham, and the other half work remotely around the country, in line with the company’s commitment to hire the best of the best, no matter their geographic location.
“Everybody is really good at what they do,” Summerville said. “They are the best in the world at what they do for our company every day.”
Though they serve customers all over the world, the company’s heart firmly remains in Birmingham.
“It’s fun to be in the same area where a lot of history has happened but to be a part of a new generation of people making the city an exciting place to live in every day,” he said. “I love living here.”
At now six years old, what do the next six years look like for Fleetio?
“I hope we really continue to grow at the same trajectory,” Summerville said. “The last couple of years we have really hit our stride and become a more dominant force in fleet management. Six years from now we hope to be a much bigger company, continually changing the landscape and having the opportunity to grow in reach and impact around the world.”