By Morton Marcus
I’ve been impressed by the writings on the Amazon call for proposals concerning the location of their second headquarters. Some writers believe Indiana and Indianapolis should be flattered by being qualified to compete for the second headquarters to be built by this massive, transformative company.
Others contend we don’t have the financial resources required by Amazon’s list of desirable attributes to make the final cut. How would we finance the modern, comprehensive transportation system Amazon envisions? Does Indiana offer the appreciation of innovative thinking Amazon imagines necessary for its new location?
However, I find it strange no one objects to the paternalistic, self-congratulatory, insensitive attitude of Amazon’s proposal. The company demands much and offers little in return to its all-too eager metropolitan supplicants.
Amazon wants to add (perhaps) 50,000 jobs to the blessed area, paying an average of (perhaps) $100,000 in total compensation, and (perhaps) $5 billion in construction outlays.
The magnitudes are so great that many Hoosier leaders recognize this may be too much for a conglomeration of contentious, competing Indiana towns still struggling to be a city.
Amazon wants to be paid for its beneficences. We can be certain our State Santa (the Indiana Economic Development Corp.) will respond as would our local governments, if they had anything to offer. Thanks to our state legislature, cities and towns are severely limited in their ability to respond, which is good considering their history.
There is nothing I found in the Amazon request for proposal to suggest Amazon has any sense of social responsibility. They want wonders, but will not commit to developing those assets beyond paying for those things of direct benefit to Amazon. This is a business proposition that could be so much more.
If Indiana wants to respond to Amazon’s proposal, it should do so by putting forward Northwest Indiana. Access to the Chicago metropolitan area meets most of the conditions put forward by Amazon. The Gary/Chicago Airport does not have the air service Amazon might desire, but it could with the support of a company that sees itself as remarkably important.
Northwest Indiana has thousands of employees Amazon could train for its jobs. A compact to give preference for training and employment to persons living within a certain radius of the site would be a great contribution to the local economy. Amazon presumes local schools, colleges and universities will supply the needed labor.
Amazon wants a place with amenities, but only if they are pre-existing conditions. The firm demonstrates no willingness to help create the ideal community they seek.
Economic development is not achieved by government alone or by the private sector alone. Amazon is very conscious of its potential impact on a community. If it had a broader vision of its own company, this request for proposal would have been sent to a very limited set of struggling communities, starting with Detroit.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to email@example.com.