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What the Amazon Headquarters Beauty Contest can teach us about Economic Development

This article has been cross-posted from Strong RI with permission.

The economic development world is all abuzz with last week’s news that Amazon is courting cities for a second headquarters that will match their current, in Seattle, with 50,000 employees and over 8 million square feet of office space. To no one’s surprise, the State of Rhode Island has declared its intention to submit a proposal to lure Amazon’s new offices and tens of thousands of highly paid workers.

Let’s first acknowledge that Rhode Island and Providence aren’t going to win this competition. A quick read-through of the Amazon RFP and a bit of reflection on the recent move of GE to Boston and Amazon’s current headquarters in urban Seattle and it’s clear that the Providence metro area doesn’t have the scale, employment base, public transportation system or any number of other requirements of the proposal. The State and City will no doubt offer a generous package of incentives. But so will dozens of other cities—cities that are larger, with faster growing populations of young college graduates, rapidly improving transit systems, superior bike infrastructure, and urban placemaking projects galore.

But this post isn’t about being negative. I get that the state has to respond to something like this, so I’m not going to dwell on whether that’s a good use of resources. I’m more interested in what this Amazon mega-RFP can teach us about what we need to be doing as a city and state if we want to grow our economy in the 21st century.

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