The Birmingham Business Alliance’s Vice President of Regional Development Nan Baldwin is involved in numerous different projects through her work, including Opportunity Zones, Alabama Communities of Excellence and transportation infrastructure talks, just to name a few. Her work all has one common purpose – to enhance the quality of life for all Birmingham residents. The BBA sat down with Baldwin recently to talk about her work and why she is passionate about it.
Birmingham Business Alliance: Give us a snapshot of what you do.
Nan Baldwin: The way we define regional development at the BBA is focusing on the quality of life aspects of economic development throughout the region, essentially dealing with the intangibles that would make companies and employees relocate to Birmingham, expand into Birmingham or remain in Birmingham. That means dealing with “softer” issues such as transportation infrastructure, air quality, community development and place. I say “soft issues” because these are issues people don’t think about every day, but they impact our lives every day.
BBA: What work have you and the BBA done with Opportunity Zones, which have been in the news recently, and Brownfields?
NB: Opportunity Zones is a hot topic, and it’s so new that people are still trying to get their arms around what it is and what role it has in economic development. What we’ve been doing at the BBA is, first, researching and understanding it ourselves and connecting the dots with some of the key players in that space. Where we see we can have the greatest impact is on developing underutilized sites for economic development and creating more available properties to grow business. That means working with the city, investors and commercial developers in trying to identify potential properties in Opportunity Zones, and a lot of those may wind up being Brownfield sites, which are underutilized and potentially contaminated properties in the region. These properties are usually abandoned industrial sites that could be redeveloped to stimulate economic development.
I represent BBA on the Alabama Brownfields Association, which we helped form in 2017. This is a nonprofit advocacy and educational group that promotes the redevelopment of Brownfield sites throughout the state. We work with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and other public/private entities to put on a conference each year to educate communities and municipalities on Brownfields funding, successes and opportunities for redevelopment.
BBA: You work extensively with the City of Birmingham’s Industrial Development Board (IDB). Tell us what that work looks like.
NB: The IDB is responsible for approving tax abatements for companies expanding their business in Birmingham, and the BBA handles the administrative responsibility. I serve as the secretary. We host the meetings, ensure the board members receive information packets prior to companies coming before the Board for abatements and work with attorneys to do the necessary paperwork to get the application approved. These abatements incentivize companies when relocating or expanding in the city of Birmingham. Other cities in the region have their own IDB, but this is a service we provide to the city of Birmingham.
BBA: You were named last year to the Birmingham Sister Cities Commission Board. What is the most interesting interaction you’ve had through your work with sister cities?
NB: I’ve enjoyed the interaction with various international delegations that come here for not only cultural exploration and awareness, but also to explore economic development opportunities. Within the last year we’ve hosted delegations from Japan, Jamaica and India. When you hear or think of a “Sister City” you think mostly of the cultural interchange, but by the BBA being a part of this and having a representative, we’re able to emphasize economic opportunities that could result between any one of those sister cities and Birmingham.
BBA: Were you involved in talks about the I-59/20 bridge closure?
NB: I keep an eye on the pulse of transportation infrastructure. We were involved three years ago at the onset by hosting public involvement meetings with businesses, primarily the trucking community in downtown Birmingham, to make sure they had a voice in the planning and how their trucks would be completely rerouted throughout all this. We orchestrated that conversation in public involvement meetings that took place to ensure central business district concerns with industrial trucking companies were part of the planning.
BBA: Tell us about the work you do with Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE).
NB: ACE is a nonprofit organization that has been in existence for 17 years, whose partners work together to help Alabama communities develop strategic plans and create programs to strengthen their long-term economic success. ACE uses a three-phase approach and it is designed for communities with a population ranging from 2,000 to 18,000. As a member of the ACE team, I am working with the City of Center Point. Center Point is a neighboring community to Birmingham that fits not only the parameters of what we’re looking for in an ACE community in terms of population, but also has great economic development potential, specifically with Autocar’s recently opened manufacturing plant there. Last year, we completed Phase 1, which was a thorough self-assessment and SWOT analysis of the City. Now we are working on Phase 2 to develop its strategic plan based on findings from the self-assessment and SWOT.
BBA: In terms of regional development, what do we as a region do well, and what can we improve upon?
NB: We do well on our public and private partnerships and interfacing with our economic development allies on key issues related to quality of life. What we can do a better job of is taking the work we do in larger communities in the region and making sure some of our smaller, more rural communities are also engaged in these conversations and opportunities.
BBA: What are your goals over the next year?
NB: For BBA to have a seat at the table on some of the more pressing infrastructure issues facing the region, like the gas tax, and being able to bring in the appropriate players to help navigate. If we are at the table we can help identify the right groups to make sure initiatives are carried off seamlessly. The BBA serves as the connector.
BBA: What makes you passionate about your work?
NB: I love seeing the city grow. Having been born and raised here, to know I am a part of the changes I’ve seen – it gives me passion, it really does, to know I had a role in that. Someone might say “I haven’t been to Birmingham in 10 years and it’s a new Birmingham,” and I know I played a role in that.