During the administration of Birmingham Mayor David Vann, the city established a local development company and chose the name Birmingham City Wide. The incorporators of this economic development organization read like a list of who’s who among business leaders, all of whom understood the value of small business growth and development. William Green, Anthony Henry, James White, Ferd Weil, John Schoppert, Joseph Knight, and John M. Livingston were the visionaries who helped to establish this initiative. They were all committed to assuring the economic growth of Birmingham by assisting the development of its small business community.
Birmingham City Wide (BCW) falls under the Small Business Administration’s classification of a Certified Development Company. These organizations are independent of the SBA but licensed by it. Certified Development Companies track their establishment back to 1958, five years after the United States Government launched the Small Business Administration in 1953. Like other CDCs, BCW worked with the SBA and local financial institutions to provide offerings that strengthen local businesses by helping them become property owners, improve, and revitalize business facilities, increase employment, and set in motion long-term community growth.
In 1978 the year Birmingham City Wide was established, the city of Birmingham was on the move. New leaders who were not part of the regime that promoted segregation were in place. City government was integrated, banking and finance was a burgeoning industry, and economic development was at the forefront of the list of things to be accomplished. The new CDC was envisioned as one dedicated to the economic development of the Birmingham region. Even by that time, economic development had evolved into a professional industry of highly specialized practitioners who maintained two key roles: providing leadership in policymaking and administering policy, programs, and projects. City Wide’s loan program fits the latter.
For the past 43 years, Birmingham City Wide Development Company has served the needs of the small business community in Birmingham and, now, all over Alabama. SBA lending through organizations like BCW is more popular today than it has ever been. SBA 504 lending allows small businesses to own and develop real estate, purchase heavy machinery and equipment, and support community economic development.
Birmingham City Wide operated out of City Hall until the Birmingham Business Resource Center (BBRC) establishment in 1996. The BBRC was asked to take over the management of the development company. That proved to be a wise move by then-mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., and economic development head C. Mark Smith. Over the past 25 years, Birmingham City Wide approved over $1.3 billion in loans to small businesses. The CDC staff, led by Birmingham business leader Bob Dickerson, founder of the Birmingham Business Resource Center, contains some of the most talented and capable lenders, loan servicing administrators, and quality control professionals in the industry.
City Wide staff members Connie Lowe and Kimberly McCall and loan originators Jan Roberts and Nicole Reed form the core of the CDC’s operations. With over 110 years of banking and development company experience, there’s nothing that this group hasn’t seen and done. A description of the BCW team would encompass words like committed, expert, customer-focused, dedicated and innovative. It is difficult to imagine another group that has held a comparable collection of talent, ability, and experience together for so many years.
There are many examples of projects supported by Birmingham City Wide in partnership with local financial institutions and the SBA that have benefited the city and state of Alabama for over four decades. Based on the current impetus on achieving economic development through the formation and growth of small businesses, it appears that City Wide’s role in helping this community grow is set for another 40 years.