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Amazon's HQ2 Search Is About Politics, Too

Amazon's HQ2 Search Is About Politics, Too

Sunday, 15 April, 2018 - 07:15
The competition for Amazon’s second headquarters is only getting fiercer. The politicking that goes with it ranges from subtle and behind the scenes to brazenly in-your-face. At stake is a destiny-changing bonanza that is a modern-day equivalent of a railroad siting.

Amazon’s decision makers are weighing many factors among 20 finalist locations, and only they know how much certain variables count: suitable buildings or sites, a highly educated labor pool, international airports and other stated requirements. What’s less easily quantified -- and perhaps as important -- are local politics and where CEO Jeff Bezos wants to spend time when not at HQ1.

The company will effectively wind up planting a mini-Seattle in the middle of another community, so the political and cultural inclinations of its young, STEM-educated workforce, anticipated to reach as many as 50,000 over time, also could dramatically transform the selected city.

It’s the Amazon Effect: endless dog parks, miles of new bicycle lanes, new buses, streetcars, streetcar cost overruns, outdoor recreation stores and gastropubs for vegans. Not to mention a slew of Democratic voters who tend to believe in environmental sustainability and sensible gun control.

So when Georgia lawmakers yanked a big tax break for Atlanta-based Delta Airlines earlier this year over the company’s severed ties with the NRA, Amazon executives who keep mum about the second headquarters derby privately expressed skepticism about Atlanta’s chances. A Boston-area college lecturer pushed the point further in a piece in Forbes: “Delta’s NRA Move Gives Boston HQ2 Edge Over Atlanta.”

Sure, Peter Cohan, who teaches business strategy at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., got a little out in front of his skis. Amazon officials have not mentioned a short-short list, and, if one exists, who knows which cities are vying against each other.

“He is one of those executives who wants to be remembered as being on the right side of history,” said Thomas O’Guinn, a marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin school of business. “Part of the quid pro quo is there will be none of this stupid gender bathroom stuff. They are going to demand that the city do everything it can to fight voter suppression. They are going to demand high attention paid to meaningful spending on the environment and more efficient greenhouse reductions.”

“Study after study shows millennials in particular want to work for a company that is open and accepting to all its employees,” said Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business. He cited research showing Texas would have lost billions of dollars if the bill had passed.

The Amazon HQ2 list of “key preferences and decision drivers” calls for “a compatible cultural and community environment” and that includes “the presence and support of a diverse population.”


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