This week, children all over the country go knocking on doors in the annual ritual of Halloween, trick or treat. In many places, this day is one of the few when you get to meet your neighbors as we go door to door, shuffling along and bumping into friends not seen in some time.
Amazon HQ2 is that kid who ignores the rules, that senior in high school who just wants the candy. Amazon HQ2 did not wear a costume and knocked early when, on September 7th, 2017, it announced its intentions to locate a $5B second headquarters and a 50,000 person workforce somewhere in North America. In a reversal, Amazon pulled a neat trick by getting potential suitors to send elaborate proposals on what treats they had to offer, thus sparing the company the drudgery of actually visiting the communities.
Amazon has always been an industry disruptor, and this latest campaign is either pure genius or a Trojan horse: a trick or treat experience that by my estimate cost North American communities well over $119 million in staff time, and professional fees for video production, print media, research and economic analysis and more to create their responses. In its mailbox, Amazon received 238 proposals in response to its detailed request for proposals.
There are so many lessons to learn and points to consider in what ensued over a six week period that I plan to make this an Amazon HQ2 series over the next year. As I dwell on the HQ2 lessons learned, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. To get that started, please take the companion survey here:
In this posting I cover: Trick or Treat? 5 Experiences of HQ2
Treat: Quality of Place
The criteria that Amazon published in their RFP is straight from our (link to Fourth Economy Quality of Place pdf) Consulting Playbook. While we hope that all of the bidders can cover the basics of labor force, location, and incentives, it is the areas that cover cultural community fit and community/quality of life attributes that make the RFP a treat. These are the areas that, we believe, can make any community a success. Amazon notes variables such as a diverse population, strong higher education systems and local government that will work with them. Under quality of life they mention daily living and recreational opportunities.The real treat will be if all 238 cities actually spent time considering these factors and while putting their best forward also identified opportunities to invest in making their quality of place better.
Trick: A proposal is not a plan
My professional guess is that very few of the cities that submitted a proposal actually had an economic development strategy in place that guides how they will attract and retain new jobs, let alone how they will handle 50,000 over a short period of time. On the other hand, the communities that do not have such a strategy but did submit a bid now have a lot of great information collected in one spot that they can use to advance a plan that goes beyond this one opportunity or if Amazon delivers less than promised.
Treat: Dare to Dream
In many communities, the thought of 50,000 new jobs in a relatively short period of time is exhilarating. This is especially true in Rust Belt cities that lost a lot more jobs that that over the past two or three decades and have struggled with starting the growth engines again. The exhilaration is of course tempered a little when one starts to look at what Amazon’s growth has done for Seattle’s housing prices and other cost of living factors. The resulting conversations are good though as these are the scenarios that communities should be considering with any plan for growth. I am hopeful that the 238 dreamer cities all use the time between now and Amazon’s next step in the process to have honest conversations and plan for what’s next in their communities.
Trick: All That Information
Amazon now has a lot of information on 238 communities and as a company built on data mining they are going to have a field day slicing and dicing. They ask in the RFP for a great deal of information that is readily available via the web. Locations with 1 million people, proximity to an international airport, crime statistics, stable business climate. All of this information could have been found through a simple request to Alexa. Or just start with the New York Times, CNBC, Brookings and more who all crunched the numbers and provided their ‘Top’ lists of communities that meet the criteria. The style points of how the proposers are pitching their communities must have been the reason to ask for Amazon to have them to do their homework for them. So the trick is that as many as 237 communities did a lot of work and may still get a failing grade.
Treat or Trick: Place Your Bets
The idea that there are betting sites now offering odds on which city will be chosen is probably both a treat and trick. A treat in that we can all continue to play along in the speculation and if we guess right make a few bucks in the process. A trick because the notion that people are literally betting on communities opens up a strange channel of conversation about their future.
In June 2017, I think we can all say that our world is at a minimum just different than it was in June 2016. There are issues and ideas that we are dealing with that we may not have expected, but “deal with” them we must. The challenge we live with is that civic leadership is messy at a time when people want it to be simple.
In recent months, we have been working with many communities who are watching the CNN (and FOX) stream just like us, trying to gauge the direction of this country. At the same time, we see a path forward as we support the actions our civic leader friends are trying to accomplish: creating a fresh food incubator in Buffalo; a renewed theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a design and manufacturing space in Providence, Rhode Island. These are the investments with exciting short-term gains and significant long-term impact of community building.
And that’s that catch: long-term impact that learns and delivers beyond the political cycle and can sustain a community is not always easy. This is where civic leadership is more asset than virtue, and where it matters the most. The challenge we live with is that civic leadership is messy at a time when people want it to be simple. Civic leadership is not born in 140 characters or through anonymous posts. Civic leadership is created in meeting rooms, in coffee shops and craft breweries, and these days on the lines of protests. My hope is that 2017 becomes the year we realized that we all need to communicate a lot more so we can understand where we want to be as neighbors.
Here are the four key skills that we see exhibited by the best community leaders with whom we work:
Listen: In every community, there are conversations occurring that can tear apart or strengthen the community fabric. Leaders must listen to all of those thoughts to understand their context and to allow for the development of empathy for one another.
Research: There is no such thing as the status quo, or a community that is exactly as it was in the old days; instead, communities are constantly heading in new directions. Leadership is about doing the research needed to understand what that direction is. Often times, data and fact-finding will provide a view that is not expected and at times painful to deal with, but it is critical to be able to communicate what is not working in order to build a case for improvement.
Create: Leaders need to create an inclusive vision. Where do we want to be in five or ten years? What do we want the rest of the world to know us for? What do we want to leave for the next generation? The vision should be bold and inspirational, and maybe even something that some people doubt achievable.
Act: Between the vision and action, there must be great planning that goes on to detail who or what is responsible for making the vision a reality, setting clear goals, and making sure the capacity to act is in place. While great planning bolsters success, it does not guarantee action. Only by recognizing the people in your community—the civic leaders who are brave enough to act—will the vision be achieved.
Let me know what you think are skills needed by civic leaders by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fourth Economy team has had the pleasure of supporting the University of Pittsburgh as they look to advance the life sciences cluster in Pittsburgh to the next level. Our work included researching the predicted next generation industry advances, analyzing the region’s research capacity and influence, location benchmarking, profiling the current cohort of life sciences companies, and discussing what is needed to build on the growing success of the sector.
We were able to provide the life sciences community with specific recommendations and a website to tell their story. The take-aways from our findings for this project are not necessarily unique to this sector in Pittsburgh and should be considered across any industries that a local community is looking to support.
#1: Sustained Leadership is Vital
Cluster development takes a vision and a level of sustained leadership that is able to evolve over a significant time horizon. Even when a region has a strong research base, it takes concentrated efforts by a community-minded intermediary to build a robust industry cluster. This cluster must provide collision points for local and out-of-region industry sector players to build relationships and find opportunities for collaboration. The output of this type of leadership activity cannot be measured in deals or investment, but creates the environment for those things to happen. We see many clusters fail because success is expected overnight, and leadership is not sustained long enough to build the necessary community infrastructure.
#2: Public, Private, and Philanthropic Investments Work
The important work of cluster development requires collaboration between the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to achieve the greatest leveraged impacts. At a time when questions swirl around the sustained commitment of federal research and development funding, it is critical to look at the models that many communities, including Pittsburgh, have demonstrated. Over 15 years ago, the state government, in collaboration with local philanthropy and the region’s research institutions, made a significant commitment to the emerging life sciences industry. The impact of those investments can be seen in the growing portfolio of companies and the position that the sector is in now.
#3: Regional impacts are Spurred by Neighborhood-Level Concentration
Industry clusters are often spread throughout a region both in terms of the location of firms and their employees. As firms mature and grow, they look for their own space, often in locations outside an urban core. But that urban core is vital to creating the density and culture of collaboration needed, especially in research and development-intensive industries. As the current generation workforce has made it known, they are looking for dense urban environments with ample amenities. In turn, the firms that are emerging will look for these locations as hosts for their employees. The Brookings Institute has advanced the notion of Innovation Districts to describe this phenomenon.
At Fourth Economy, our team has consistently looked ahead to see what will impact our clients in the coming years and made sure that we have the right set of capabilities and partners to help mind our clients’ needs. While many of our clients have expressed a great deal of uncertainty, we believe that we are well equipped to handle whatever is sent our way. Continue reading “4 Names to Know”
Recognition: rekəɡˈniSH(ə)n/, noun, the action or process of recognizing or being recognized.
Fourth Economy has now turned six! Thanks to you, we’ve had a chance to put our ideas to work and make an impact – and people are noticing.
You may hear this week about our national recognition for being an Inner City 100 company (#53) as determined by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. We are big fans of the organization, which has been championing strategies to rebuild our most vital communities. Hanging out with them for two days and taking home a plaque commemorating our achievement was pretty awesome! Continue reading “6 Years of Equipping Change Agents”
It’s All About the Distance. Or is It?
Sure, power contributes to your ability to hit a home run, but it’s also the mechanics of how you swing that can take the ball farther. Many community and economic development initiatives throw a lot of money (power) at an issue without an understanding of the underlying issues and opportunities. A better approach is to use community input combined with real-time data to better understand the current local mechanics and what forms of investment (money and time) it will take to support change. Continue reading “5 Lessons From the MLB All-Star Game for Economic Opportunity Pursuits”
Fourth Economy recently concluded a Cluster Development Strategy project for the City Council of Providence, RI. The analysis, conversations and excitement that was demonstrated during the process underscores the need to think beyond traditional Industry Clusters and be open to identifying emerging sectors that may still require definition.
The City of Providence is an example of many communities throughout the country, especially in the Midwest, Northeast and New England, where economies that once were led by industrial dominance are still searching for the right mix of legacy and emerging businesses and organizations to regain strength. While finding an easy strategy to replicate in these communities remains elusive if not impossible, I offer 3 ingredients that must exist in order to advance an approach that embraces Market Opportunities.
Continue reading “Three Ingredients to Support Market Opportunities – Moving Beyond Industry Clusters”
Fourth Economy Consulting has turned five and has topped over 200 client engagements in that short period. And by engagements, I mean that we have had the great fortune to partner with community leaders all over the country as they work to strengthen their organizations and communities. This experience has provided me with yes you guessed it, five notable trends that I wanted to share with you. Continue reading “Which Trend is Your Community Experiencing?”
You may have missed the news out of Indiana two weeks ago – no it wasn’t about that – it was the news that Indiana became the first state in the country to launch an economic development initiative focused on Quality of Place. This effort called the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative and now supported by $84 million, is an opportunity for Indiana’s regional communities to rally together to define what they can accomplish to enhance their communities. The visionary leadership of Indiana Governor Pence and Eric Doden, former President of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, drove the creation of this initiative and it will pay dividends to Indiana’s communities for years to come. Continue reading “Four Ingredients that Led to $84 Million and a Shared Vision for Indiana”
Comeback City. Best Place to Live. Best to Visit…It’s a good feeling when your hometown receives so much attention. Living in Pittsburgh inspires a sense of pride and as I travel around the country, I am always happy to tell people about the highlights of our region’s transformation. That travel though has also opened my eyes to the fact that we are not doing enough to retain those titles. There are issues in our community, our economy and our civic and social infrastructure that must be addressed if we want to wear the badge of pride into the next decade. Continue reading “Pittsburgh’s Next Opportunity”