By Mikala McCurry
Darryl Washington, a native of Birmingham, AL, has always been an advocate for the South.
“I have been a cheerleader for Birmingham all my life,” he said. “In the summer, I would go visit cousins from all over the United States, and they all had a negative perception about not only Birmingham but the South. So I was always taking up for the South and changing perceptions of the South.”
Washington attended Morehouse College and has been in the economic development field for more than 25 years. He also worked several different jobs in sales, marketing and economic development for BellSouth, City of Irondale, and for Urban Impact a community development corporation in Birmingham’s Historic Civil Rights District.
“No matter my role I’ve always worked in collaboration or for local governments, so that’s where I crafted my skills around economic development,” he explained. “ In sales, you want to know ‘how do your customers make money?’ Well, the way cities and local municipalities make money is implementing economic development policies and practices that drive sales tax and property tax revenue. Economic Development is the sales and marketing arm of the city.”
After working in Birmingham for several years, Washington landed in the City of Montgomery as the Director of Economic Development in May of 2022. In this role, he not only markets to businesses, but he also markets to property owners and tourists to increase sales tax and property tax revenue coming into the City of Montgomery.
“I like that Montgomery citizens are hungry for change,” he said. “When we have that energy, we just have to fuel that energy with results. We have to become more than strategic thinkers, but strategic doers.”
One of the challenges Washington faces in his role is changing peoples’ mindsets and getting business owners and residents to be flexible, open-minded, and adapt to change when it happens. As major projects develop around Montgomery, Washington hopes to influence mindset development while implementing economic development.
“A lot of people think innovation is just technology based. No, it’s not. It’s really just doing things differently and constantly challenging the status quo. If you have a good process, how do you make it better? If it’s broken, how do you fix it? We have to influence people to think innovatively,” he said.
Washington also sees workforce development as a challenge in his role, especially after the pandemic.
“You have some businesses that really want to do big things, but probably the biggest burden on anybody’s growth these days is the workforce. When the world pivoted, the workforce changed tremendously,” he explained.
“We have to make it more attractive for young people or people that need to work at restaurants, retail and hospitality. Montgomery has some awesome small businesses, but they all have encountered workforce challenges. So we have to constantly consider how do we come up with solutions that better involve tapping not only our colleges, but let’s start at high school and get kids plugged into the Montgomery workforce,” he said.
Washington sees women and minority-owned businesses as a critical part of the economic development in the City of Montgomery.
“What gets the headlines are the big businesses that come to town, but what keeps the city afloat are small businesses, minority-owned businesses, and women-owned businesses,” he explained. “I think the focus here is to do more to help amplify and support those businesses. The role of small businesses today is more critical than ever.”
In the next five to ten years, Darryl sees the City of Montgomery having a more vibrant downtown scene, more opportunities to bring families into the city, and thriving neighborhoods in currently underserved communities.
In his free time, Darryl enjoys spending time with his family, watching sports, mountain biking, and hiking.
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