Birmingham is one of the South’s most misunderstood cities. A former steel and manufacturing center once known as the “Pittsburgh of the South,” Birmingham is still thought by many outsiders to combine the grittiness of this legacy with some of the other more unsavory images of the old South. But the truth is far different: Birmingham has experienced a major economic turnaround, and while not quite as far along as noted Southern stars like Charlotte, Raleigh Durham and Atlanta, the area has come a long way.
The steel industry is still evident but has transitioned into higher value-add manufacturing enterprises supporting the South’s growing automotive assembly industry, which surrounds the city in a few-hundred-mile radius in places like Tuscaloosa (Mercedes) Lincoln, AL (Honda), Montgomery, AL (Hyundai), and Spring Hill and Smyrna, TN (Saturn and Nissan). Beyond this industry, the economy has moved decidedly towards more new-economy enterprises in research, medicine, banking, finance, and technology. The area has become a magnet for young educated workers and their families looking for alternatives to Atlanta and other booming Southern centers. Nice older (and some newer) suburban neighborhoods have grown mainly south of the city towards Vestavia Hills and Hoover. The area scores relatively well in healthcare, arts, and the economy, and poorly in air service and climate.
Birmingham is located in a valley within a hilly area in the Appalachian foothills. Ridges rise to 600 feet above the valley floor, with a mix of open land and forest. The climate is decidedly southern, humid subtropical with a modifying influence from the Gulf of Mexico. Summers are long, hot, and humid with frequent thunderstorms. Winters are mild. Total annual rainfall is among the highest in the United States.