Cities that were snubbed by Amazon's HQ2 project are having identity crises

ShutterstockRochester, New York, did not make Amazon’s short list, though the city thought it may have a shot.
  • Amazon narrowed its HQ2 search down to just 20 cities.
  • This made people in some cities very happy. People in the losing cities, on the other hand, were left wondering what went wrong.
  • City officials and local columnists are looking inward after their cities unsuccessfully offered millions of dollars in incentives to Amazon.

A headline from the Charlotte Observer couldn’t have put it any more succinctly: “Amazon’s HQ2 snub leaves Charlotte wondering, ‘What’s wrong with our city?'”

Amazon has plans to invest $US5 billion and bring up to 50,000 jobs to the city it chooses for its second headquarters. The e-commerce giant’s call for proposals sent a frenzy down nearly every main street in North America last fall, and in total, 238 proposals from cities, towns, and regions were submitted.

Amazon has now narrowed it down to 20, and a few cities are understandably upset.

Cities that were not selected for Amazon’s HQ2 short list are now turning inward, looking at what they offered Amazon and what they have to offer, period.

Charlotte was passed over in favour of fellow North Carolinian city Raleigh, and the loss has hurt the city’s pride a bit, according to local officials quoted in the Charlotte Observer.

“Columbus, Ohio, is on there and not Charlotte? I might say that’s a little surprising,” Brian Leary, president of local development company Crescent Communities, told the Observer.

Another compared the city to shortlisted Indianapolis.

“When I look at Indianapolis and I look at Charlotte, I would have thought everything we had to offer would at least be equal, if not more,” Fred Smith, professor of economics at Davidson College Fred Smith, told the Observer.

An editorial in Rochester, New York’s newspaper, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, was even more harsh about the city and the chances it thought it had, saying the city “needs to face hard facts.”

“We will never know whether the tech company took our bid for HQ2 as seriously as we allowed ourselves to imagine it did. We took ourselves seriously. We must continue to do so, but with even greater intensity. That means facing some hard facts that we tried to soften in our Amazon pitch,” wrote the editorial board.

Most cities did not get an answer from Amazon as to why their locale was not picked for the short list. Detroit did, however, get a bit of feedback from the company.

“We were good but we weren’t good enough on the talent front,” Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, told the Detroit Free Press, highlighting Michigan’s “brain drain.” Graduates are often leaving the state to take jobs elsewhere, and Detroit hasn’t been fully effective in attracting skilled new residents.

Some cities, like St. Louis, are looking on the bright side of not being picked and are trying to turn the momentum from the Amazon proposal into positive energy. Experts speculated to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it may have been the lack of growing population or international appeal that made Amazon shortlist smaller cities than St. Louis.

Sheila Sweeney, the CEO of the city’s Economic Development Partnership, told the Post-Dispatch that the effort to woo Amazon was “not in vain.”

“For the first time ever a real estate development was proposed for both sides of the river … that’s never happened before. We realise the new way forward is to be regional for St. Louis,” she said.

Houston officials seems to have a similar attitude.

“I believe this is a wake-up call for Houston,” Bob Harvey, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, which submitted the bid to Amazon, said in a statement to local media. “While there has been growing momentum in the innovation space over the last couple of years, this is a clear indication that we have much more work to do as a region to grow our digital economy.”

Other cities aren’t looking at themselves, however. They have already got their eyes on the next tech prize.

“We put forth a good effort, and we’ve got to keep going,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’ve got to go for Apple now.”

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