WANTED: COOL CITIES, SMART PEOPLE
Speaking of e-commerce, a little outfit called Amazon has been known to dabble in that. They’ve also been known to drive city officials and economic development folk near-out of their minds when they announce they’re looking for a new location for a second headquarters.
Of course, that’s what Amazon revealed a while ago and in the interim all manner of civic boosters has attempted to lure the giant whose current headquarters in Seattle is 8.1 million square feet, constituting nearly 20 percent of that city’s Class A office space. Everything from the artistic (New York’s Empire State Building lighting in Amazon’s signature orange) to the gastronomic (Pittsburgh’s Primanti Bros. restaurant offering free sandwiches for every Amazon employee) to the absolute straightforward (tiny, newly formed Stonecrest, Georgia, offering to rename itself to Amazon, Georgia) has been employed.
The reasons are obvious. The closest recent example of what such a development can mean to an area is probably Tesla’s Gigafactory that started construction in Reno in 2014. Four years before that city had 14 percent unemployment. Today, the factory has created 4,000 new local jobs in the area and will eventually support around 10,000 jobs.
But, while trying to figure out what a company wants, it’s important that they know what a city can offer. Forward thinking, tech progressive companies such as Amazon depend on talented workers. Those talented workers want to work in an area with a quality of life the educated and ambitious have now come to expect. If a city wants to attract a top business, it needs, says urban theorist Richard Florida, “to be able to appeal to the young and the restless.”
That’s why large metropolitan areas, north of 1 million folks, figure to have an advantage. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Remember, it was just a couple decades ago that Austin, Texas, was considered a charming college town with an awesome music festival. Now it is a premier startup destination, luring companies with its college town charm and awesome music festival.
Omaha, Nebraska, recognized as much, understanding that young, innovative workers aren’t necessarily looking for white picket fences but, instead, want central areas where they can meet, relax and have fun. The city went about remaking itself, transforming industrial areas into promenades and meeting places where art districts and cool retail sites have popped up.
Amazon has let it be known that it desires these kinds of cultural and artistic benefits, but it also says it is looking for an area with a large, talented labor pool from which to draw. Like a lot of companies, Amazon has the wherewithal to transfer workers into a particular region but, long term, would prefer to draw from the talent around it or drawn to it. That means not only cool places to live and hang out in, but cities with multiple universities … a vibrant startup scene couldn’t hurt, either.
So, in a nutshell, there you have it: Get cooler and get smarter. It may not be enough to attract Amazon this time around, but there will always be another time, another company, perhaps a third headquarters for Amazon …
“Alexa, get me cool cities with smart people.”