Last week, Amazon accepted final bids in the host city competition for its second headquarters. Over 200 cities applied across North America, with pitches that ranged from exhaustive to persuasive to seemingly stunt-based.
With the bidding period closed, the ball is now in Amazon’s court. But how will the tech giant choose a winner?
For an informed answer, we asked six of our experts representing diverse fields — transportation, partnerships, technology, education, and leadership — to weigh in on the keys. The question was simple: What’s the most underrated factor that will be essential to Amazon’s decision?
Brooks Rainwater (Senior Executive and Director, Center for City Solutions)
One of the under-appreciated critical assets will be that the city selected reflects organic urbanism that can only be found in cities that have grown and morphed over generations rather than years.
Walkability is a necessity rather than an amenity — not a late addition to somewhere designed first for cars. Cobblestones and culture infuse the air, with universities creating an intellectual vitality that draws in talent from across the globe.
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Christy McFarland (Research Director)
Regional coordination. Amazon went so far as to request that metro areas “coordinate with relevant jurisdictions to submit one RFP for your MSA” because it is highly unlikely that one jurisdiction will have all of assets needed to support 50,000 new jobs.
The RFP process may be a test case to see which places have the governance structure and political environment to be able to tackle large scale regional issues, like housing, traffic congestion and workforce training, that will directly affect Amazon’s bottom-line.
Brittney Kohler (Director, Transportation & Infrastructure)
Amazon was clear that connectivity, both for people and by fiber, would set an application apart. Many cities’ pain points come back to issues of connectivity – whether a huge highway divides a city or if limited transportation options force people into cars on already congested roads.
The competition for Amazon HQ2 should have every city asking how they make workers’ commutes better today and take a deep dive into planning to make their transportation and fiber network ready for the next great company that comes knocking.
David Maloney (Director, Strategic Partnerships and Development)
Aside from the most obvious concerns, a big question is: How will Amazon approach the community?
It’s entirely possible that they will parachute into a city and suddenly be a top 5 employer. Public perception will likely be mixed, so the type of corporate citizen they decide to be will be critical to building a lasting partnership. Prioritizing proactive engagement with community stakeholders, civic leaders, educational institutions, business and industry, and local government will likely be one of the most important decisions they make.
Michael Nelson (Program Manager, West Region and former mayor, Carrboro, NC)
The most underrated factor that people aren’t talking about is transit. Cities that haven’t invested in public transit infrastructure are at a serious disadvantage.
Let’s face it. Amazon is looking to move 50,000 employees to and from work every day. Cities that rely primarily on roads and SOV vehicles have put themselves at a disadvantage for long-term economic develop opportunities like Amazon.
Dana D’Orazio (Program Manager, Postsecondary Education)
The biggest question is: Are cities utilizing their resources to ensure local talent is ready for the jobs of the future? Cities need to leverage their multi-sector partners to build pathways to these jobs.
This means providing meaningful training and related education; early exposure and connection to careers; and access to experiences that build not only in-demand skills but result in critical thinkers and life-learners. This will be the workforce that can navigate the unknown and set cities apart in terms of thriving economies.