What the Amazon HQ2 Thing Maybe Means For Your City
By chance, I happened to fly into Seattle the morning the big Amazon "second headquarters" news dropped. There are some pretty crazy wildfires going on in the Pacific Northwest. You could smell the smoke from the plane. The sky was all hazy and the sun was tinted red. Very eerie.
The news—that Amazon wants to build a non-Seattle "second" North American headquarters campus that could eventually house about 50,000 employees in 8 million square feet of office space—was heartbreaking in that it immediately turned all of online into a painfully thirsty booster club. Totally, Amazon is going to #revitalize all of your different local versions of the Superfund site on vacant land next to the airport in Atlantic City. There's a bus route! There's a new Guatemalan restaurant! We were ranked #7 on Spamjam.info's list of best places to live in 2014! Go get 'em, Boise.
Setting aside the importance of the explicit extortion demand in the Amazon Request for Proposals, I reckon Minneapolis is probably pretty well positioned for this type of thing. Lotta smart people here, it's nice, it's still pretty cheap, we're not, uh, on the coast, and there's still a decent amount of underutilized land on the edge of downtown. That said, I tend to agree with a lot of the commentary that they already know where they want to go, and are mostly looking to extract concessions from that local and/or state government by pretending it's a contest.
Here's a big question, though—if it really were up for grabs, should we want it?
Hard to say.
Extortion, on one hand, is capital b Bad. I am one-fourth Sicilian, and in junior high was once asked by someone on the school bus if my family was in the mafia, and that's not even a fake story. The ongoing race to the bottom between state and local governments to land various amounts of jobs of varying quality is...not good for the country overall. The recent news across the St. Croix, where the idiots who have been hard at work ruining Wisconsin are poised to give the Chinese conglomerate Foxconn billions (???) of dollars in incentives for up to...13,000...jobs, is a recent example of this. But there's much more.
All that said, landing 50,000 Amazon jobs, but more specifically, their "second headquarters," does feel...important, in a dark sort of way, doesn't it?
Would this be our (or Austin's, or Denver's) only way to ensure our (any?) relevance in the future? What's going to happen to Target and Best Buy in 20 years?
Zooming out a bit from the day to day slog of insane Tweets from the president, who has dementia and owns us constantly, the big picture is maybe that we are sleepwalking into a pretty predictable circa 1982 futuristic corporate dystopia? With like ten incredibly powerful companies and an inept or non-existent government? Unfortunately the companies have silly names like Google and Amazon instead of "OmniCorp" or whatever.
Lately, there has been some (good) backlash against the giant, unaccountable, opaque tech companies, but who knows how that will turn out. Over the past few decades, corporations have continued to consolidate to the point where where there are like five banks and four media conglomerates and two cable companies and four airlines and eight stores and three electronics companies. Hyperbole? Yes, but I mean also basically true.
Along with deindustrialization, which everyone knows about, mergers and acquisitions have been a large but less well known part of why much of the middle of the country has been hollowed out, as detailed in this excellent article you should read about St. Louis. New York will be fine indefinitely. But Kansas City? Cleveland? Nashville? It's hard to see where medium-sized cities figure into an increasingly consolidated future.
There are, theoretically, laws against cartoonishly evil mega conglomerates, but also, people in general will for sure tattoo an Amazon Prime barcode on their necks for 5% off same day delivered bulk pickles, and the Supreme Court is gonna be a snake pit three (or seven, lol) years from now, so who knows.
So like I said, it's hard to say, gang—Weyland-Yutani was pretty bad in the Alien movies. But you all seem to really like the same day delivery of bulk pickles, and I don't think we want to be St. Louis in 15 years.