|Jefferson County in Black and White|
Jefferson County's debt escalated in the mid-2000s when bond issuance deals to upgrade its sewer system soured amid widespread corruption, bribery and fraud charges that led to some 22 convictions.
Costs ballooned as interest rates rose, and the county had teetered on the edge of insolvency since its debt was downgraded in 2008. With more than $5 billion in total indebtedness, the Chapter 9 filing on Wednesday surpassed that filed by Orange County California, in 1994.
Jefferson County, with a population of about 660,000, contains some of the richest neighborhoods in the country as well as pockets of urban poverty and blight.
Birmingham was the scene of one of the fiercest confrontations of the U.S. civil rights movement in 1963 when city leaders and police violently resisted a campaign for desegregation by demonstrators led by Martin Luther King Jr. (PK note: why even bring this up? It's Black people that have made Birmingham unlivable now, not bogeyman from the Civil Rights Era)
Larry Langford, a Democrat and former mayor of Birmingham, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last year for his role in corrupt business deals that fueled the multibillion-dollar sewer debt. Langford presided over the county commission during the height of the bond swaps that led to the run-up of the massive debt.
There was a time when Birmingham - at least by one measure of corporate muscle - ranked up there with Los Angeles and Boston.
That was in April 1999, just 10 years ago, when Birmingham was home to six companies in the Fortune 500, the list of the largest corporations in the country, ranked by revenue.
Now, the Magic City has just one member, Regions Financial Corp., which is hanging on to its 280th spot after a rough year that included a $6.2 billion fourth-quarter loss. Los Angeles has added a member since 1999, while Boston's tally has remained level.
Meanwhile, another landmark Birmingham business - Bruno's Supermarkets LLC, a member of the elite Fortune roster in the mid-1990s - is in the process of disappearing after the 75-year-old chain's assets were auctioned in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Most experts say it's good to have large companies based in a city. They tend to pay higher salaries and search nationwide for ambitious people willing to move and take big risks in return for the big rewards. That keeps the local talent pool fresh. Big companies also tend to attract other big companies, as suppliers and partners. They also tend to be the most vocal about education and transportation, and give the most to charities.
"You always want the high rollers," said Keivan Deravi, an economics professor at Auburn University Montgomery. "It creates an economic ripple, a chain effect."
Economic developers said the loss of brass nameplate companies is no big deal when it comes to recruiting new corporations. Steve Sewell, vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, said companies considering Birmingham are interested in being on the Fortune 500 themselves and don't pay much attention to who already is.
"Companies are looking at the factors that are going to contribute to their long-term growth and viability," he said. "They are going to look at the hard factors - the overall business climate, the availability of work force, the costs of operating."...