YES, we all love Mobile, but we can no longer look away from the things that aren’t working. The city of Mobile has perennially been known as the City of Potential; a City by the Bay of Possibility and a City that Could but Doesn’t. Despite its central Gulf Coast location, deep water port, multiple airports, southern charm and its ability to attract major niche industry (i.e shipbuilding, aerospace assembly and shipping/logistics), Mobile still is stagnant in other ways evident by its shrinking population and at times glacial progress in attracting and diversifying its industry base.
If we are to become a City of Tomorrow of GROWTH and prosperity city leaders and citizens alike must do the following (3) things in order to grow the city forward.
1. Mobile MUST Educate its Workforce
Mobile is a poorly educated city. Although our population may be filled with thousands of hard-working men and women, collectively its workforce still is not able compete in the rapid technology driven new economy. For instance, according to the US Census Bureau while 88.5% of its workforce have High School diplomas, only 28.5% of its workforce have college degrees. Let that sink in for a moment. Nearly 12% of Mobile’s adult working population do not have the bare minimum education or skills to secure even a minimum wage job and nearly 72% of its workforce cannot apply for a job that has a BS degree as its minimum qualification.
In comparison Huntsville, AL workforce has 90.4% with High School diplomas and 49.2% with college degrees. Charlotte, NC workforce has 88.9% High School graduates and 43.5% with bachelor degrees. Atlanta has a workforce with 90.3% High School graduates and 49.9% with college degrees.
There MUST be a coordinated federal, state, county and city effort to increase Mobile’s workforce education and skills. We cannot attract new industry if the existing workforce can barely function in an evolving technology economy. The school system must also be involved in encouraging and pushing its students to greater academic and work skills excellence.
2. Mobile MUST Change its Marketing Narrative
I am deeply proud of the hard work that the Mobile Chamber of Commerce and the Mobile Convention and Visitors Bureau have done in promoting the city. We are proudly home to Airbus and many other dynamic manufacturing and logistical companies and national conventions. But NOW is the perfect opportunity to change Mobile’s narrative.
Let’s promote Mobile as a “New South” city. We can still embrace our proud 300+ year history while boldly proclaiming our city as a place for young people who can move here to Play, Grow and to Build entrepreneurial companies and to expand their careers. Just look at the burgeoning Technology Corridor in downtown Mobile on St. Louis Street. In a few years I predict the Dauphin Entertainment district and Louis Technology Corridor will merge into ONE district filled with fun, frivolity, technology and hard work.
Young people want vibrant and meaningful careers. They want to tackle challenges and to be competitively compensated for their contribution. Mobile is in a PERFECT position to attract young entrepreneurs from other parts of the county and the world to move here and to expand their base operations in our city. Our affordability, proximity to beautiful Gulf Coast beaches and nearby tourist cities for day or weekend trips is something that must be stressed.
Young folks are ACTIVE so they need constant mental and physical stimulation. The city must foster and cultivate that in every way possible by making Downtown Mobile a destination place. And let’s not forget about our local educated young people. We must create and foster a jobs, economic climate where they do not feel forced to leave the city in order to secure a well-paid and challenging career elsewhere.
Next we must also promote our Mardi Gras to a much younger well-to-do millennial and Generation Z population across the country and the world by associating it with Hollywood and Music figures who would travel to the port city for Mardi Gras concerts and dance parties. Mobile’s Mardi Gras can no longer be promoted to snowbird retirees as America’s best kept secret.
Finally, this new Mobile marketing narrative also means the city must break ties with its local good will ambassador program, the Azalea Trail Maids which showcases civil war, “Gone with The Wind” imagery in promoting the city. We’ve simply must get past that.
3. Mobile MUST annex Prichard, Chickasaw and South Mobile County
No doubt about it, Mobile must grow its shrinking population. Annexation is the fast way to do this. Major federal grant programs often start with cities with populations of 200,000 or more. Many corporations won’t even think about relocating or expanding to cities that are less than 200,000 in population. The cities of Prichard, Chickasaw and communities of South Mobile County must get past their pride and ego and work together to become ONE.
Both the cities of Prichard and Chickasaw still have hundreds of acres of undeveloped land that could be used to attract and build Technology campuses, Manufacturing facilities, Amusement parks, or perhaps another aerospace cluster of companies. Neither Prichard nor Chickasaw have the financial wherewithal or the positive name brand recognition to make this happen on their own.
They need Mobile and Mobile needs them.. BUT Mobile must give concessions to Prichard and Chickasaw. You can’t just rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue in their communities and only share a tiny sliver of it with the folks in those very communities. Mobile must beef up police and fire protections there and give back very large chunks of allocated funds for urban and suburban community development in those areas.
Finally those communities along with South Mobile cities should also RETAIN their names making it the Prichard, Chickasaw, Theodore, St. Elmo, Irvington and South Mobile neighborhoods of the city of Mobile.
I genuinely believe Mobile is the city to WATCH but only if we can move forward with these three actions. What do you think?