Why BHAM?


Scott Pierce has a couple of questions for the city.

By Andre Natta

Birmingham is known as a city of perpetual promise, even though people have long hoped that its residents would “dare to dream big dreams…” How it’s perceived by outsiders—and perhaps more importantly by those who choose to call it home—has always been an area of debate and struggle.

One long–time transplant has decided to tackle the issue head on while giving folks a chance to talk about what causes their heart strings to be tugged in adoration of Jones Valley.

Scott Pierce has lived in Birmingham for more than twenty years, currently serving as the director of technology for Intermark Group. It’s safe to say that he’s a visible and active part of the city’s tech scene, though he’s become even more visible in recent months. Without even realizing it, you may have seen him volunteering at Paint the Town Red or giving a presentation at a recent Ignite Birmingham event.

It was a presentation at last fall’s Ignite Birmingham event that led to his launching of WhyBHM. The site hosts video interviews of Birmingham’s residents and its reason for existence has shifted ever so slightly since it was first a kernel of an idea in its creator’s mind.

Pierce says that he was originally inspired to start the project as a recruitment tool. He has had to nearly double his staff in the last year and it’s become harder for him to find talented people. “We have a perception that’s held by people about Birmingham. Most of those people unfortunately have never even been here.”

He remembers that as he started to refine the idea and started talking to friends about it, “I realized that it was more important to help ourselves [as residents of the city].”

“I’m in the marketing field and know that selling a product that you don’t believe in is extraordinarily difficult and usually doesn’t work. I realized that the first thing we had to do to make ourselves more attractive to this talent at the national level is to improve our own self–image.”

He said he was also influenced by the “You Are Beautiful” signs that have continued to pop up throughout the metro area. “It’s an amazing and moving project with a simple and direct message.”

Pierce decided “rather than looking at this as an evangelistic type of project, I thought I should look at it more as a therapeutic one.”

He will ask his subjects two questions—“Why did you come to Birmingham?” and “Why have you stayed in Birmingham?” They’ll have the opportunity to answer either or both of the questions as Pierce recognizes what drew you to Birmingham may not be what keeps you here. It’s important to point out that the same questions will be asked of subjects whether they have relocated or if they are natives.

Both questions provide a chance to celebrate the things that make Birmingham unique and a chance to fight against stereotypes that are more internally applied than externally.

I’ve found a slightly different response than Pierce’s in my travels across the country since moving here in 2004. Once people learn that I live in Birmingham, while I do occasionally hear a stereotypical response from some older people, those young professionals that learn of my choice to move here ask “Why?”—not because of stereotypes but because they don’t know what to think or expect about the city.

These videos provide a glimpse into why people love Alabama’s Magic City in their own words and being absolutely real. Their existence on the Internet allows them to be viewed not just by those considering relocating here, but by people who can have their image of Birmingham slowly chipped away using words shared by a variety of people from many different walks of life.

A recent report suggests that Birmingham isn’t quite ready to be lived in yet. I’d argue that this video series and other projects like it underway may be the first steps in proving it’s already time to become part of realizing dreams that could come true.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

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