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Opinion | The resurrection of Montgomery

Montgomery was supposed to be dying. Progressive policies and a focus on diversity have attracted major business and new life.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed speaking to the press.
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Montgomery is dead. 

It’s a dying city. Crime and liberals are killing Montgomery. Renaming schools won’t fix the education system in Montgomery, and it’s the reason the city is dying. Ever since the Democrats took over Montgomery, it’s been all downhill. 

You’ve heard it all before, right? If you live in or around Montgomery, I know you’ve heard it. Some of the above has been uttered, with absolute glee and condescension, by some goober from Prattville or Pike Road. And there’s also an undercurrent of racism, as if it’s obvious that <whispers> “the Blacks” have run that place into the ground.  

Here’s the thing: As usual, the conservatives and racists and conservative racists are dead wrong. 

Since Montgomery’s first Black mayor took over, bringing with him a progressive agenda, Montgomery isn’t just getting by. It’s thriving. 

From a business standpoint – and how else do we measure things in this Republican-dominated state – Montgomery has just experienced its best year, quite possibly, in history. 

And I only say quite possibly because it’s impossible to compare the creation of new jobs and new business expansion in today’s dollars with business creation in decades’ old dollars. Certainly, the city had its best year in at least two decades. 

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How good was it? 

Try better than $1.3 billion in new business investment, much of it from national corporations relocating or expanding. More than 5,000 new jobs. And a ranking as the country’s best city for Black-owned businesses. 

As far as I can tell, only Huntsville, which is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, had a better 2022 than Montgomery among Alabama cities. 

How’d they do it? 

“Progressive policies work,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said during an interview on the “Alabama Politics This Week Podcast.” 

Reed noted a number of “crazy liberal policies,” such as touting the city’s diversity and inclusion efforts, that played a role in attracting some major corporations to Montgomery, helping the city beat out other locations. And he wasn’t guessing about it. The business leaders told him that was the case.

Specifically, Reed noted that his city has removed the confederates’ names from some streets and from all schools and replaced them with actual American heroes. Such actions, he said, drew praise from business executives who were now more focused than ever on hiring and cultivating a diverse workforce. 

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Turns out, bigotry, hate and racism are money-losers in 2022 and beyond. 

That’s something Alabama lawmakers should likely consider as they start planning for the 2023 legislative session. Cheap labor and cheap land only carry you so far in the economic development market. At some point, major corporations start to consider the fact that their employees – even some well-compensated executives – will be forced to live in this place. 

And increasingly, they’re turning away from places that are openly hostile to their employees. 

Now, look, don’t get me wrong here. Businesses all across the country and around the world didn’t wake up yesterday and suddenly decide to be more decent to people. In most cases, someone in accounting showed the top guys a breakdown of their revenue and they happened to notice that minority markets hold huge potential. 

Tapping into those markets means employing a diverse workforce that understands those markets. And the ability to employ that diverse workforce means not locating your company in states and cities that treat that diverse workforce like yesterday’s garbage. 

If you doubt this is true, just in passing, Reed also mentioned that his city missed out on two major companies that would have brought thousands more jobs to his city. Why did they miss? Because Montgomery’s city council, swayed by the abhorrent rhetoric of a few crazies, voted down Reed’s proposed anti-discrimination ordinance. 

The ordinance would have protected all people, making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, race, religion or gender identity. 

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The council voted it down after the crazies showed up to scream about men dressing up as women to get into women’s public restrooms. As if there’s a guard at the door now to keep out the heterosexual, definitely-not-transgender rapist. 

The point here is that business executives are listening and watching. The labor force is stretched thin and there’s almost more jobs than workers. Which means workers hold the upperhand, and will for the foreseeable future. 

If you want to play well in this market, you better be able to tell employers that you can make a diverse workforce feel welcomed and at home. 

Montgomery has done just that. And look at that life in a city so many seemed to believe was dead.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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