Monday, February 05, 2018

Why Amazon won't pick Columbus for HQ2

When a new American electronic commerce behemoth like Amazon promises to bring 50,000 jobs, each with an average annual compensation of $100,000, to one of 20 finalist communities competing to be the lucky picked for its HQ2, city and state leaders might disown their own if that's what it takes to convince Amazon billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to pick them.

Downtown Columbus, Ohio, along
the Scioto River
"Amazon would be foolish to dismiss the strengths of Pittsburgh and Columbus, and Amazon is not foolish," a recent Toledo Blade editorial observed about why HQ2 should come to Pittsburgh, PA, or Columbus, Ohio, two cool cities located in two heartland Rust Belt states.

HQ2 Wants More Than Taxes, Universities

Amazon watchers give good odds to cities located in the D.C. region like Washington, Northern Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, citing among other reasons the acquisition of the Washington Post by Bezos in 2013. The fact that Amazon's global guru is finishing renovations on a Washington home he bought for $23 million only adds more fuel to the fire.

Columbus, Ohio's only growing city, is among the twenty cities that include other big hitters like Atlanta, New York, Boston, and Chicago. Based on one key criteria in the selection process—that the winning city has a strong university system—Columbus and Pittsburgh stack up well in that category, with The Ohio State University in Cbus and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, respectively.

As the Blade notes, "Columbus and Pittsburgh can compete with the large metros on quality of life and affordability. Young millennials have flocked to the two cities, creating vibrant social scenes and an enterprising, start-up culture," as well as boasting lots of affordable housing.

Never forget that that Amazon is headquartered where it started, in Seattle in Washington State, a city and a state that pride themselves on being more progressive on social issues than other cities and states. Ohio's population growth has been moribund for decades, as people look for good jobs in other places. When Ohio stagnates, it also loses political power in Washington, as has been happening for decades and decades.

Moribund Ohio

Ohio once boasted 25 Electoral College votes in the 1920s, but 25 has dwindled to 18, and that number will only go lower, as many demographers predict it will, when the 2020 census shows other states are expanding at the expense of Ohio. 

In addition to slow or no growth, a trend that can't be reversed anytime soon regardless of how business-friendly Gov. John Kasich says the state is, what haunts Columbus and will work against it is that the State of Ohio, under leadership by Kasich and a like-minded far-right legislature, have chosen to embrace many policies that show just how mean-spirited social conservatives can be when they have the power to put in place policies and programs designed to hurt the very populations Amazon embraces, including LGBTQ, immigrants and women.

Look to a recent ruly by the Ohio Supreme Court to close Toledo's only abortion clinic to understand why Ohio's socially unfriendly environment won't be an asset when Amazon weights the pros and cons of each contestant.

Whatever financial incentives (aka, legal bribes) Ohio chooses to offer Amazon, any one of the other 19 finalists can meet or beat it if push comes to shove. What Ohio has that many others don't have is an unfriendly social social climate where women's issues, including access to abortion services, as just noted, are among the harshest in the nation.

It's About Diversity, Stupid!

In the economic development site selection dance, quality of life is often more important that tax policy to some  industries. And Amazon is one of them.

Why would a smart, progressive CEO like Bezos, whose home turf social-climate in Seattle would make Kasich and Ohio Republican leaders lie awake at night, want to bring thousands of female employees to a state that has a drum beat of eliminating constitutionally recognized access to abortion services? Why would Amazon's female employees want to subject themselves or their daughters to the kind of thinking that has put the Buckeye State in retrograde motion on so many social issues other than abortion, when other cities and states, by comparison, have embraced laws related to minorities, immigrants and women that Ohio would find incompatible with its current, dominant political ideology?

Why would a progressive company like Amazon want to bring its employees to a state where public schools are bleed dry to pay for for-profit charter schools that do a terrible job of educating children? Why would Amazon, if it has a choice, and it does, want to pick Ohio when the next crop of Republican leaders promise to ditch Medicaid, dance around unsafe roads and bridges because repairing them costs money, and public spending, as they see it, is to be reduced rather than expanded by taxing a billionaire Colossus like Bezos a few dollars more?

For these and other reasons that go to the heart of why policies and laws at the heart of social conservatism are turning Ohio backward instead of forward, don't expect legacy papers like the Blade and the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Columbus Dispatch to write about at length, because doing so only focuses the spotlight on Ohio's socially inconvenient Achilles Heel. Amazon can see the obvious, and the obvious is that fiscally and socially conservative lawmakers are passing laws that are silly, stupid and outdated for the Millennial generation that gives less and less of a hoot about race, religion, gender or ethnicity.

For these reasons about the state climate—not for reasons about the Columbus climate that include a good university or an abundant, skilled workforce—Amazon won't pick Ohio's capital city for HQ2.

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