How Birmingham won the $785 million DC BLOX investment

DC BLOX CEO Jeff Uphues said it himself – his company could have gone anywhere.

The DC BLOX team ranked the top 40 markets in the Southeast in an exhaustive quantitative analysis and chose Birmingham – a city Uphues called “a hidden jewel in the Southeast” – because of its proximity to Atlanta, its investment in physical infrastructure, its higher education and its economic development activity. The final call was made, Uphues said, when he and his team experienced what he called “the heart of Birmingham,” and the company chose the Magic City to transform a 27-acre site in Birmingham into a technology and innovation campus that will become the flagship property for the company. Over the next decade, the project has the potential to represent a $785 million investment in the city.

“It is undeniable that Birmingham is a great place to be,” he said.

The Birmingham Business Alliance was proud to be a part of the team that attracted DC BLOX to Birmingham. Here, the BBA’s Senior Vice President of Economic Development Rick Davis breaks down the win and what it means to the region.

Birmingham Business Alliance: After scouting 40 cities, DC BLOX chose Birmingham for its technology and innovation campus. Why did Birmingham get the win?

Rick Davis: I think it’s a combination of things. If you’re talking about the why, the why would be that we have a team of committed players who are all aligned with the idea of making these kinds of projects happen in Birmingham.

The hard part is putting the team together, but the easy part is getting the team to come together and do the work necessary to win something like this. If you look a little deeper, Birmingham wins because of location, geographically and from a technology standpoint. We’ve seen it locally and we’ve talked about it a lot, this rise of the Birmingham technology sector, but I think others around the region are also starting to see that. We fit very nicely and it’s a good match, between what we are becoming and what DC BLOX wants to do.

BBA: Jeff Uphues, CEO of DC BLOX, said some great things about Birmingham at the announcement this month, including the phrase “Think Birmingham first.” What doors will this open for Birmingham?

RD: For me, when a guy like Jeff says “Think Birmingham first,” it’s a message to technology users and developers that this is a place you might not have thought about, but you probably should. And it goes back to what I said before about the rise of our technology sector, the attention that’s being brought to bear on what’s happening locally from a technology development and innovation standpoint, that’s just now starting to get out. It’s third party validation of what we’ve been trying to say all along, that this is a place where your technology company can thrive, and the ability to develop the technology can thrive here because of the things that are in place, the infrastructure, the workforce that is gradually coming around. We’re attracting more and more of those people. It’s great validation of the things that we’ve already known about that were going on.

BBA: This investment – up to $785 million – is huge. How often does an announcement of that magnitude come around?

RD: Not very often. I think this is a record for Birmingham for one single company to invest. I will say this, there is a caveat to that number, to that $785 million. While it’s a big number, it represents the total investment of what DC BLOX would do if they build out this site to its full potential. This is what can happen if everything falls into place. A lot of things have to happen – they have to attract other companies, and those companies will be part of that investment number, that $785 million. It’s a stunning number for one project to be almost a billion dollars in one project, and that’s unprecedented here.

BBA: How will this investment positively impact our region?

RD: From the standpoint of tax abatements, all the taxes that are dedicated to education cannot be abated, so from day one those companies will pay those education taxes. Think about the impact on our schools alone, just from that. It continues to pour money into this community. Someone once said to me that “A dollar that goes around is a dollar that goes around.” It affects everybody. It’s a huge number from that standpoint, but I’m really excited about what it means for our school systems.

BBA: Once DC BLOX is here, how will the BBA support the company?

RD: Once a company is here, that’s when the relationship really begins. It doesn’t end. A lot of people think the relationship is alive while you’re trying to recruit them and once they’re here you say good luck to them. That’s not how we operate, and it’s really not how anybody in Birmingham or the state of Alabama has ever operated.

We’ve always understood that the team approach doesn’t end when the company cuts the ribbon and says we’re open for business. That’s when it begins. So it’ll be an ongoing relationship. We’ll stay very close in touch with them. We’ve had a lot of phone calls from people who say “How can we go to work with DC BLOX? How can we help them with some of our products?” So we’ve already begun that process as well. It’s ongoing and that’s the way we really feel about our local companies that are already here. They just add to our existing industry profile.

BBA: Anything else you’d like to add?

RD: It was a great project to work on. I’m glad everybody had the determination to see it through, and the end result is a tremendous project for the community, especially for the Titusville community. That’s a huge plus for that area as well.