For Birmingham’s corporate community, Mayor William Bell meant business

Brian Hilson, left, president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, sits with Mayor William Bell during 2016 Birmingham Regional Economic Growth Summit. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)


By Nick Patterson

The Birmingham Times

To demonstrate how Birmingham Mayor William Bell has affected the economy of the region for the better, Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) President and CEO Brian Hilson cited two cases in point: STERIS Healthcare and Autocar.

Ohio-based STERIS, which provides medical equipment and infection-prevention technology, purchased Birmingham-based Integrated Medical Systems International (IMS) in 2014.

“After the company was acquired by an Ohio-based company, we were faced with a situation where they were planning to leave Birmingham, and that would have cost us about 150 jobs initially,” Hilson said. “So, we had a task of first retaining them. We had a discussion with Mayor Bell, who reacted very quickly and flew to Cleveland to meet with company chairman Walt Rosebrough. That relationship, I think, paved the way toward the success we had down the road, which included them not only not leaving Birmingham but instead investing in new facilities near downtown. And they’re also expanding.”

“If you put all of that together, a combined total of about 400 jobs were retained and added,” Hilson said, noting this as a good example of Bell’s “people skills, and how he related to a high-level executive.”

Bell’s mayoral term comes to an end on Nov. 28, when the man who unseated him, mayor-elect Randall Woodfin, takes office.

In the case of Autocar, the Hagerstown, Ind. – based company that recently announced it will invest $120 million to expand and open a manufacturing plant in Jefferson County to build its heavy-duty cab-over-engine trucks, Bell had to think beyond Birmingham’s city limits.

Hilson explained, “The existing facility Autocar acquired was physically located in the city of Center Point, but because there are so many employees — 746 — the land around the building facilities was not sufficient for all the employee parking, truck maneuvering, and so on. Mayor Bell, recognizing the problem, stepped forward and committed some city-owned property that was contiguous to the Autocar site.

“Without that, I’m not sure we could have gotten that deal done. Even though it wasn’t in his city, he was willing to go the extra mile to make it work because he realized it would have an impact on the region for sure but also have an impact on the city.”