This is How the Greater Western New York Region Should Respond If Amazon Picks Another Option

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If you haven’t heard by now, Amazon wants to build a second headquarters somewhere else, preferably in the USA. Many pundits believe, since it’s already on the West Coast (Seattle), it only makes sense to place the new headquarters somewhere in the eastern half of the nation. Forbes, on the other hand, believes the top five most likely cities are Atlanta, Austin, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Boston.

The good news is Rochester and Buffalo have finally realized they’re on the same team and, rather than each placing a competing bid as originally considered, will be joining together in one unified Greater Western New York bid. This is significant. Here’s why.

In looking just at the Forbes list, according to the 2017 Top US Metropolitan Area data, Atlanta ranks #9, Austin ranks #31, Pittsburgh ranks #26, and Boston ranks #10 (Toronto, while not being in the US, would rank #22). By the way, Seattle ranks #15. Compare these city’s rankings with the individual rankings of Buffalo (#50) and Rochester (#51). If you include the entire 17 county Greater Western New York Region, that ranking rises to #20 (between Denver and St. Louis).

By combining ourselves, we go from barely treading water in the top 50 metro areas to solidly in the top 25. If you want to be daring and include Toronto in our region (don’t laugh, there’s a certain logic to that, then “The Golden Horseshoe” (as the relevant portion of the coast of Lake Ontario outlines) would be ranked #9, ahead of Atlanta and behind Miami.

Here’s why size matters. Amazon wants to hire 50,000 people for their new headquarters. The location selected must be able to both: 1) Supply a sizable amount of these new hires; and, 2) Support the municipal growth the attendant population expansion will need. Separately, these new Amazon hires represent roughly 5% each of Buffalo and Rochester. When view in terms of the entire Greater Western New York region, the new hires account for about 2% of the population, on par with Forbes’ most likely locations.

So, you see, as I show in the book 50 Hidden Gems of Greater Western New York, the sum of the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. Test market companies realized this ages ago. Our collective bulk represents the greatest hidden gem of our region. Unfortunately, for decades, we have allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered by interests from Albany to New York City. Perhaps this joint Amazon bid represents our first tiny baby step out of that shell.

Alas, let’s be realistic. It’s going to take more than compelling logic to change the nation’s perception of our much-maligned region. It’s not that I don’t think it’s happening – I’m discovering first-hand how much of a challenge it is to schedule a reasonably priced national convention in the suddenly hip and popular City of Buffalo. It’s not quite turn of the (nineteenth) century popularity, but it’s a far cry from the doldrums of the turn of the (twentieth) century.

The fact is, when New Jersey offers a $7 billion tax break to locate in Newark and Dallas offers to build a $15 billion bullet train, it doesn’t take an accounting genius to know this game is probably too rich for our blood. We might be able to match the town of Stonecrest, Georgia, that is offering to change its name to “Amazon,” but, really, do we even want to go down that road? Even New York City’s bid is only $9 million, not including the $24 million in tax breaks offered by the state (and that presumably applies to the Greater Western New York bid, too).

Still, perception matters, and when Amazon says the area it picks must have a “stable” economy that is “business friendly,” well, you just know the economic reputation of our region and the high-tax reality of our state will automatically generate two strikes against us.

So, what should we do if Amazon fails to accept our (no doubt) attractive proposal? The answer is simple and every entrepreneur already knows it. We should take that money, those resources, and the tax-breaks and feed it into a pipeline that will create the critical mass to spawn a regional competitor to Amazon. Between the raw talent in the creative arts of local colleges, the business savvy of our commerce leaders, and the resiliency historically associated with our region this represents the perfect community project we can all collaborate on and profit from.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?!

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