Birmingham, is the largest city in Alabama. The city is the county seat of Jefferson County. According to the 2010 United States Census, Birmingham had a population of 212,237. The Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area, in estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009, had a population of about 1,212,848; approximately one-quarter of Alabama's population.
Birmingham was founded in 1871, just after the American Civil War, through the merger of three pre-existing towns, and Birmingham grew from there, annexing many more of its smaller neighbors, into an industrial and railroad transportation powerhouse, especially in mining, the iron and steel industry, and railroading. Birmingham was named for Birmingham, England, once one of the major metal manufacturing industrial cities of England. Most of the original settlers who founded Birmingham were of English ancestry. It was planned as a city where cheap, non-unionized, African-American labor from rural South Alabama could be employed in the city's steel mills and blast furnaces, giving it a competitive advantage over industrial cities in the Midwest and Northeastern United States.
From its founding through the end of the 1960s, Birmingham was the primary industrial center of the Southern United States. The astonishing pace of Birmingham's growth during the period from 1881 through 1920, Birmingham earned its nicknames "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South." Much like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Birmingham's major industries were iron and steel production, plus a major component of the railroading industry, where rails and railroad cars were both manufactured in Birmingham. In the field of railroading, the two primary hubs of railroading in the Deep South were Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, beginning in the 1860s and continuing through to the present day. Going clockwise from the due north, Birmingham is the nexus of railroad lines that connect it with Nashville, Tennessee; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee.
From Birmingham's early days onward, the steel industry has always played a crucial role in the local economy. Though the steel industry no longer has the same prominence it once held in Birmingham, steel production and processing continue to play a key role in the economy. Several of the nation's largest steelmakers, including CMC Steel, U.S. Steel, McWane, and Nucor, all have a major presence in Birmingham. In recent years, local steel companies have announced about $100 million worth of investment in expansions and new plants in and around Birmingham.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Birmingham's economy was transformed by investments in bio-technology and medical research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and its adjacent hospital. The UAB Hospital is a Level I trauma center providing health care and breakthrough medical research. UAB is now the area's largest employer and the largest in Alabama with a workforce of about 20,000. Health care services provider HealthSouth, Surgical Care Affiliates and Diagnostic Health Corporation are also headquartered in the city.Caremark Rx was also founded in the city.
Birmingham is also a leading banking center, serving as home to two major banks: Regions Financial Corporation and BBVA Compass. SouthTrust, another large bank headquartered in Birmingham, was acquired by Wachovia in 2004. The city still has major operations as one of the regional headquarters of Wachovia, which itself is now part of Wells Fargo Bank. In November 2006, Regions Financial merged with AmSouth Bancorporation, which was also headquartered in Birmingham. They formed the 8th largest U.S. bank (by total assets). Nearly a dozen smaller banks are also headquartered in the Magic City, such as Superior Bank and (until its failure in 2009) New South Federal Savings Bank. As of 2009, the finance & banking sector in Birmingham employed 1,870 financial managers, 1,530 loan officers, 680 securities commodities and financial services sales agents, 380 financial analysts, 310 financial examiners, 220 credit analysts, and 130 loan counselors.
The telephone company that is now owned by AT&T, which was formerly BellSouth and before that South Central Bell, which had its headquarters in Birmingham, has a major nexus in Birmingham, supported by a skyscraper downtown.
The insurance companies Protective Life, Infinity Property & Casualty, ProAssurance, and Liberty National have their headquarters in Birmingham, and these employ a large number of people in Greater Birmingham.
Birmingham is also a powerhouse of construction and engineering companies, including BE&K, Brasfield & Gorrie and B.L. Harbert International which routinely are included in the Engineering News-Record lists of top design and international construction firms.
Two of the largest soft-drink bottlers in the United States, each with more than $500 million in sales per year, are located in Birmingham. The Buffalo Rock Company, founded in 1901, was formerly a maker of just ginger ale, but now it is a major bottler for the Pepsi Cola Company, and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, United, founded in 1902, is the third-largest bottler of Coca-Cola products in the United States.
The Birmingham metropolitan area has consistently been rated as one of America's best places to work and earn a living based on the area's competitive salary rates and relatively low living expenses. One study published in 2006 at the Web site Salary.com determined that Birmingham was second in the nation for building personal net worth, based on local salary rates, living expenses, and unemployment rates.
A 2006 study by Web site Bizjournals.com calculated Birmingham's "combined personal income" (the sum of all money earned by all residents of an area in a year) at $48.1 billion.