Romancing Bezos. Ignoring Your Neighbor.

by Keith Taylor

Imagine being such a powerful company, whose aspirations for growth have been almost universally lauded as the next evolutionary phase of business. And imagine if you have ambitious plans for expanding a corporate HQ. What if you released an open-ended, noncommittal statement asking for communities to compete for your affection?

It might play out like this…

Amazon is the Belle of the Ball, distracting public officials from pressing local community economic development pursuits, in the hopes they might just catch a unicorn. So alluring is Amazon, that they don’t even need to ask for handouts; they’re simply offered.

A sampling.

How about reconfiguring your entire community to accommodate Amazon?

For Jeff Cheney, the mayor of Frisco, Tex., a city of 160,000 about a half-hour drive from Dallas, the courtship includes offering to build his city around Amazon.

“Our city’s only about 60 percent built out, so we’ve got a lot of available land where we can build to suit,” Mr. Cheney said. “We play to win. We’re innovators. We’re forward thinkers, and we’re serious.”

Or pleading fealty while unintentionally undermining the local businesses you represent?

Mark D. Boughton, the mayor of Danbury, Conn., posted a video on Sept. 14 calling himself a “proud Amazon customer”

Or spending an inordinate amount of internal labor hours on “research?”

Mr. Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans, has also built an Amazon war room, where more than 40 people are trying to analyze what the online retailer “likes and doesn’t like.” They are also trying to read Mr. Bezos’ psyche. “He’s got hundreds of hours of videos on YouTube you can watch,” Mr. Gilbert said.

Gilbert is so enamored with the idea of Amazon, he is willing to put his own client-base on the chopping block to win Amazon’s hand.

Mr. Gilbert is the largest private property owner in downtown Detroit, and he said he would move his tenants to temporary locations to make room for Amazon so the company did not have to wait for new offices to be built.

These anecdotes signal that a great deal of public and private dollars will be put toward wooing Bezos and Amazon to resettle in their community. These scarce dollars could be put to better use helping start new enterprise, or growing community-based businesses, who appear to provide greater economic development spillovers into their host communities.

Instead, it looks like a gold rush, where everyone is stampeding over each other in the hopes they’ll strike it rich. All from a company lacking a credible commitment toward creating quality jobs, a competitive market economy, or even a viable business model based on strong fundamentals.

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