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Birmingham-area developers woo prospects at Barber Motorsports Park
Economic developers hope an open-wheel race car will help steer in Birmingham's next industrial recruitment prize.

The Birmingham Business Alliance is using the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama to woo more than two dozen prospects, corporate decision makers and site consultants during this weekend's races and at a swanky reception and dinner on Saturday night.

Birmingham has exclusive rights to the Indy Racing League event in the Deep South for the next three years, starting with Sunday's inaugural race. That means economic developers in Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte and Jacksonville won't have the same opportunity to court prospects.

"Any time you host in-bound prospects or consultants for these types of events, you're always looking for something different or a hook to get them to visit your community," said Patrick Murphy, head of economic development for the BBA.

One hook is the race's setting, the Barber Motorsports Park, which has the world's largest private motorcycle collection on display inside the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum overlooking the racetrack.

A fancy Alabama-themed dinner with Gov. Bob Riley, Birmingham Mayor William Bell and corporate leaders inside the museum also is on the agenda for the prospects. The invitation list contains 150 names, including some Indy Racing League drivers.

"The experience is going to be special," Murphy said. "It's important for us to get a message across to these decision makers and consultants that we're open for business and they can expect a tremendous amount of cooperation from both the public and private sectors."

The four-course meal from Five Star Event Catering will highlight tastes from around the state, including Chilton County peaches, Morgan Creek wines, Bayou La Batre shrimp, pecans from Priester's of Fort Deposit, and Jones Valley Urban Farm vegetables. Beers from Birmingham's Good People Brewery will be served.

"The menu is meant to offer a flavor of the state of Alabama and regional tastes and products to give our prospects and guests a feel for what's here beyond what they might expect," Murphy said.

Murphy would not discuss who the prospects are, though he said they represent a variety of industries.

"These are the types of companies that we want in our community," he said.

Gene Hallman, chief executive of Zoom Motorsports, which organizes and manages events at the Barber Motorsports Park, said the Indy race is a perfect fit for economic development efforts.

"I think this will help us in an image and branding standpoint relative to automotive economic development effort because it will be televised in 184 countries around the world," Hallman said.

Don Erwin, vice president of corporate development for the Barber Companies, said attracting industry was one of businessman George Barber's goals when he began investing millions of dollars to create the park and museum near Leeds.

"He has always envisioned this as a way to help with economic development in the area -- not just with tourism, which is one form of economic development, but also as a tool to attract prospects," Erwin said.

Erwin worked with the BBA to erect a sign at the Barber Motorsports Park in time for the Indy races that declares "Birmingham: A great place for business" and directs people to a Web site, www.bizbirmingham.com, that allows them to exchange contact information with the business group.

Erwin said the sign will stay up after the race to lure other visitors, such as those who attend the Porsche Sport Driving School based at the park.

"There have been more than 8,500 people come in for the Porsche Driving School since it started -- 1,100 have come in from California alone," Erwin said. "To be able to pay the roughly $3,000 for the two-day course, they are likely people in some position of note in business."

Murphy said economic development officials will use the reception and dinner on Saturday night to deliver a video message about the area's business advantages. Riley, Bell and other elected officials will address attendees.

"We're using this to go beyond the wow factor of the museum and the race," he said. "We want to tell our guests about the Birmingham region's business climate. We think there is a wow factor in that as well." AL.com

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