Ask Not What Amazon Can Do For You

The mighty Amazon has announced that it is looking for a city in which to locate a second North American headquarters (“HQ2” in Amazon-speak), to supplement its operations in its home base of Seattle.  It’s also released a set of specifications describing what it’s looking for in a new location. The reaction to this announcement has resembled the 1960s TV game show The Dating Game, in which a single man or woman would ask questions to three blushing men or women on the other side of a wall. Based on the answers, the questioner would choose which of the three they wanted to go on a date with, and then the lucky couple would finally get to see each other and go on a fabulous night out.

So Amazon has asked its questions, and 238 cities and regions throughout North America have answered, with videos, publicity campaigns, and bid documents promoting what they can offer. Even cities that don’t meet the basic requirements are trying to pitch themselves as potentially being of interest.

Amazon estimates that HQ2 will bring approximately 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment to its chosen location. That would be a significant boost to any region’s economy – not only in job numbers, but also in the spending on infrastructure to support operations on that scale, like warehouse and office space, equipment, and transportation.

But to build solid, sustainable economies, cities and regions shouldn’t just be looking at the amount of jobs and investment being promised; they should also be looking at what types of jobs are being offered, and at the company that’s offering those jobs. That is why it’s particularly distressing that cities’ reaction to Amazon’s proposal is akin to contestants on The Dating Game begging “Pick me! Pick me!”, without knowing much about their potential partner – and running the risk that the potential partner might not be so attractive in a different setting.

Contestants behind the wall on The Dating Game, 1973. (credit: YouTube)

Cities and regions shouldn’t be letting Amazon single-handedly dictate what it wants in its new location. They should be proactive about what kind of companies they welcome – so they should be setting some requirements for Amazon, rather than the other way around. Here’s what that might look like.

Dear Amazon,

We in Idealville are very excited that you are considering locating your new second headquarters in our region.

We are very pleased to see that Amazon is looking for “a stable and business-friendly environment”, and that it wants to “invest in the communities where we operate in ways that benefit our neighbors and our employees”. We appreciate your stated commitment to “sustainability and protecting the environment”. These are values that we in Idealville share with you.

In Idealville, we believe that a healthy economy is best developed in workplaces that offer stable, secure employment, and that are structured to generate mutual respect between employers and employees. This optimizes employee productivity and also contributes to building strong communities. Thus, here are our expectations for employers wishing to do business in our area.

We expect employers to, whenever possible, offer permanent full-time jobs, rather than relying on part-time or temporary work arrangements. We expect employers to provide workplaces and jobs that treat employees as people and as a valued resource. We expect employers to pay workers, regardless of their status, a fair wage with appropriate levels of benefits. We expect employers to set reasonable schedules of work hours. We expect employers to follow employment standards law, including compensation for overtime. We expect employers to offer fair opportunities for promotion or advancement within their companies.

Our region’s infrastructure and civic services are significant factors in whether businesses are successful. To  ensure that businesses are adequately supporting the publicly funded amenities that they use, we also expect employers to pay the appropriate level of corporate tax. The revenue from corporate taxes ensures that Idealville has enough financial resources to maintain its infrastructure in good working order, and that it can provide enough civic services to meet demand. We also expect employers to minimize the impact of their operations on the region as a whole – for example, reducing vehicle traffic by encouraging employees to use public transit to get and from work.

In Idealville we believe that successful businesses are those whose operations are sustainable without financial subsidies from governments. We also believe that revenues collected from taxes should be used to support services that benefit as many of our citizens as possible. Thus, we do not reduce tax rates or offer publicly funded subsidies to attract high-revenue businesses.

Values have the most impact not when they are expressed in words, but when they guide actions. Clearly stating our expectations for employers in Idealville is one of our strategies to build a strong economy, a productive workforce, and a society in which all are equally respected and valued. We welcome Amazon’s interest in our city, and look forward to your explanation of how your organization can meet our expectations.

Mayor I.M. Happy
City of Idealville

Cities and regions, don’t sit behind a wall and hope that Amazon chooses you. Ask not what you can do for Amazon; instead, ask Amazon what it can do for you.

One comment

  1. You should see how towns all over America are bending over backwards to offer the most outlandish incentives. In the meantime, Seattle is the glaring example of thousands of jobs that happened too fast and contributed to urban problems of transportation and lodgings.

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