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Wednesday November 26th 2014

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Chamber behind Mobile success

Commissioner Gene Valentino and his PR person, Jane Birdwell, make much of the Mobile success story. Mobile outshines Pensacola in the economic development arena.

I wouldn’t want to live there but there is no disputing that Mobile has been tremendously successful over the past 20 years. We wrote about the most recent successes last year (Gulf Coast Unite).

Mobile County is a big client of Birdwell, Photography and Multimedia (BPM). Last month, she was awarded $63,500 to train county employees to run the Web site www.keepourtanker.com and develop an advertising campaign promoting career and technical training for jobs associated with the aerospace, defense, shipbuilding, engineering and other high-paying industries.

Since September 2007, BPM has been paid nearly $250,000 by Mobile County to build and maintain that web site and manage the marketing campaign to bring the tanker plant to Mobile. Birdwell is very familiar with the recent successes of Mobile County.

However, the real turnaround of Mobile began in the 1980s when Mike Dow, a three-tour Vietnam veteran and co-founder of a successful tech company, QMS, led an effort with the Mobile Chamber of Commerce to develop an economic development strategy for the city. In 1989, Dow was elected Mayor of Mobile using that strategy, called the “String of Pearls,” as his platform. For the next 16 years, he worked on implementing that plan.

Interestingly, Dow was only the city’s second strong mayor since 1911. Four years earlier the city had switched from it city manager-weak mayor form of government.

I interviewed Dow for IN Your Head Radio last year. Dow said, “You have got to have leadership on a number of fronts. Mobile was blessed back in the mid-eighties to get a bunch of people to together and figure out what we wanted to be.”

“We went through a strategic plan process with the business community and the Chamber. I was the volunteer vice president for the Chamber at the time.”

Dow went on to say the planning process led to about 100 goals.

“Then ‘Boom,’ I am elected mayor and I have this phenomenal set of plans to work with. The city government, county government, state, feds and our community organizations came together and put together a real partnership.”

“The Chamber and city and county leaders would sit down regularly over 16 years and see where we were on that plan.”

The plan included such projects as the downtown convention center, Explorium museum, Mobile Government Plaza, the Mobile Bay Bears stadium, Alabama Cruise Ship Terminal and the RSA Tower. Dow also annexed several adjacent areas into the city limits. In his last term he began courting Thyssen-Krupp, that was looking to build a steel mill, and Boeing, that was looking for a site to build their Dreamliner plane. The Boeing site is where Northrup Grumman wanted to build its air tanker.

Dow stressed the importance of the public and private sector working together–something that Valentino and Birdwell omit from their presentations.

However, to be fair, neither of them may really know the history of Mobile and how it got where it is. They see the recent successes and the efforts of Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine and don’t know about the two decades of work needed for the recent successes to occur.

Mobile’s long string of successes didn’t begin with Mike Dow attacking the Mobile Chamber of Commerce. It began with the business community and public officials working together.