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Amazon's HQ2 RFP Matters

Author: Brandon Palanker, 3BL Strategies        9/20/17

The Economic Development world is afire with the buzz about Amazon. Who will be the winner? Are Boston or Denver leaders in the club house? Can smaller metros compete with the usual suspects, potentially vaulting their city to the world stage? Or, does it even matter? After all, only one place is going to win (or, maybe not). Let’s be honest, how many locations can support the 50,000 new employees, millions upon millions of new square feet of real estate and thousands of new residential units including multifamily and traditional suburban options alike? That doesn’t even contemplate the immense infrastructure and transportation needs.


Whether a region seeks to retain, grow or attract companies of 50,000, 5,000, 500 or 50, Amazon has provided a clear blueprint of what employers seek: It’s no longer about just tending to the needs of the C-Level execs (good schools, nice houses!) and providing the best incentive package. Those things matter, but there is a new lever that has risen to paramount importance. That lever is talent.

For companies in the knowledge and innovation sectors, the ability to retain and attract talent has become paramount. No amount of tax breaks can compensate if a region is unable to do so.

At a Panel I recently moderated at the International Economic Development Council’s World Forum in Toronto, it became clear that three factors are necessary to attract top talent and the companies that employ them:

• Walkable, mixed-use environments are essential 

• A full range of housing options must be provided – from single family homes, to townhomes, to multi-family options

• Connectivity: From both an IT perspective (gotta have your fiber), and people perspective (must connect people and places)

To achieve these aims, towns, cities and regions must re-examine their approach to Economic Development and utilize an approach called Place-Based Economic Development. Only an integrated approach that bridges urban planning and real estate development with innovative infrastructure solutions can provide the penumbra effect, whereby a region can provide traditional Economic Development needs such as incentives and a business friendly environment while addressing the new emphasis on place.

While there may only be one winner in the HQ2 sweepstakes (although some industry insiders believe there may be multiple “consolation” prizes), regions across the country can benefit by reading the blueprint, integrating economic development with placemaking and utilizing new approaches to infrastructure and connectivity.

This approach accelerates the creation of a sustainable innovation ecosystem that meet the needs of the both the employer and the new workforce – and today it’s the latter that represents the most important party of the equation. After all, it's about the talent.

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