By: Taylor Clark Jacobson
REV Director or Recruitment and Growth

In spite of downtown Birmingham’s residential growth, downtown employees remain the primary customer base for restaurants, retailers and street-level service providers. Over the summer, we published our State of Downtown Business Report sharing personal stories and data about Covid’s impact on our small business owners. 

Employees working remotely have forced street-level businesses to pivot their models, to operate at a loss or to shutter their doors altogether. Restaurant and retail businesses, the heartbeat of a vibrant Birmingham, are grappling with their own sustainability in the face of economic downtown and dismal foot traffic. Meanwhile, property owners are forced to be equally strategic and accommodating as they find creative ways to keep buildings occupied and financial obligations met. We have yet to see the full impacts on our downtown.  

But, even in the face of a pandemic, Birmingham’s yay-saying spirit is a beacon of light in a dark moment.  

We are optimistic about the Magic City’s ability to shine on the heels of this unprecedented moment in time.  

As a follow up to our State of Downtown Small Business Report, last month with help from a zoom room full of downtown yaysayersREV Board President Wil Puckett of Renasant Bank and Board Member Jill Deer of Brasfield and Gorrie convened community conversation to inspire, educate and inform downtown’s return to workHere’s what we heard about workforce return and here’s how we’re moving forward. 

Physical space will never be the same. 

Physical distance, outdoor spaces and technology are here to stay. Business operations and business models are forever changed by this experience. Employers are rethinking how their work environment and how it will impact their workforce. Tammy Cohen of CCR has a cool little toolkit to guide these decisions.

CCR ARCHITECTURAL GUIDE

Communication with employees is imperative to recovery. 

Good, consistent employee communications that allows expression of emotion is important. “Get employee input to inform policies and practices,” Martha Sims of BXSI AdvantageHR says. “When returning, ensure employees are clear on the policies and procedures.  And lastly, make sure expectations must be made clear to build employee confidence in returning to work.”

Most businesses have rightsized their business and adapted. 

While we’ve seen a few closures, Keith Barfield of BMSS says emergency relief funds made it possible for small business owners to keep their doors open. Dining took a 50-70-percent hit initially, but it’s recovering. And quick service only experienced a 20-percent cut, but are now ahead of their 2020 projections. At REV, we’ve seen small business rock stars pivoting and rightsizing their model and adjusting the budget accordingly. Check out our Rebound Bham Recap to see how Bham’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is supporting small businesses in starting and sustaining.

Now is our moment to shine and to show the nation what we have to offer post-pandemic.  

The pandemic leveled the playing field; all cities are experiencing the same struggle.  

We have an opportunity to attract talent and business seeking the quality of life, the cost of living and the entrepreneurial spirit we offer.  

Birmingham is looking to the future. 2021 is about letting our deeply ingrained spirit of resiliency shine. Together, we can write the next chapter as we continue to come together to pave the way. We truly are in this together and we will not only return to work together but as we prepare for the World Games in 2022, we’ll show the World what makes Birmingham magical. 

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