Amazon has been getting a huge amount of flack for its highly public process of selecting what was billed as a second headquarters. People said, not without reason, that Amazon probably already had a good idea where they wanted to go. The process seemed to be designed to extract the maximum amount of subsidy out of the winner(s).
Richard Florida organized an open letter urging cities to band together to refuse to grant subsidies to Amazon. I signed it. Brookings was also critical of the process. “Good government” type advocates can’t help but see it as unseemly. But maybe we are missing the picture at some level.
Amazon’s process may end up paying dividends for many of the losing cities. I cited before the case of Oklahoma City, which, after coming in second in the competition for a United Airlines maintenance base that was the HQ2 of its day, embarked on a program of civic improvements that helped reinvigorate the city. Had United not done their bake off, who knows what might have happened.
I was talking with one economic development person in an Amazon finalist city who took a very bullish view of the process. He had been frustrated trying to get various factions of community and government together around a program to boost the tech industry. Amazon’s process dissolved all the barriers to making that happen.
You may have also seen that even state legislatures dropped their usual operating procedures and took up legislation related to Amazon at an accelerated rate. Not all of this passed, but the fact that it was even considered shows the power of the Amazon process.
Smart cities were looking to leverage the Amazon bidding process to accelerate local changes that need to be made to boost competitiveness. I don’t think there’s much most places can do to convert themselves into centers of the elite economy. But there’s a lot they can do to compete for the rest of it, which is still a lot and can still be valuable.
If this happens for them, then Amazon’s process will ultimately end up being a win for the losing cities.