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What It Means When Amazon Looks Past ‘Flyover Country’

Amazon selected a pair “second headquarters” in New York City and Northern Virginia. It's a case of the tech rich getting richer and Flyover Country continuing to have to bootstrap its way to digital relevance.

Amazon presumably will keep growing, and certainly when it comes to siting new warehouses, for instance, it’ll have lots of valuable information on all these other cities and their relative states of generosity in its back pocket, ready to bring out at the ideal moment.

There’s disappointment among some CEOs in the Heartland, including some in Indiana.

“It [would have increased] the competition for talent but it would [have been] great,” Tom Linebarger, CEO of Cummins Engine, based south of Indianapolis in Columbus, Indiana, told Chief Executive. “It would provide jobs for a lot of people. It would be really good for [Indiana] and we would benefit.”

Added Bob Martin, CEO of Thor Industries, the recreational-vehicle giant based in Elkhart, Indiana, in the northern part of the state: “Indianapolis would have been a great spot for Amazon and created a lot of growth and opportunity there.”

Indeed, Amazon’s decision will extend in a big way the sharpening imbalance in economic power between the coasts and Flyover Country. Already home to the world’s financial and marketing capital in New York City, the most powerful seat of government on the globe in D.C., the world’s biggest determinant of popular culture in Hollywood, and the capital of technology in Silicon Valley, both coasts will host the most powerful force in retailing.

Yet some CEOs in the Heartland were indifferent. “Whatever,” said Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods, a maker of fermented dairy products based in Chicago. “Of course it would have been great; we want that attention and business here. But it is what it is. Amazon has its reasoning. And it’s easier for them to attract young workers to New York than Indianapolis.”

The development found some cities turning to count the economic-development blessings they do have, such as Dallas, with the new Toyota Motor Corp. U.S. headquarters and other additions; Indianapolis, with major tech installations by Salesforce and Infosys; Detroit, with all the billions that Dan Gilbert has pumped into reviving the city’s downtown; and Chicago, which already has 1,000 Google workers and may get up to 5,000 more, and is looking at its own major expansion by Salesforce, of up to 5,000 jobs in a new riverfront skyscraper.

There may even be relief in some quarters at Amazon’s sticking to the coasts because, while cities out in Flyover Country are all trying to develop their own tech-job ecosystems, obviously they still have a long way to go to achieve true critical mass. Consider southeastern Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker looked to have landed a huge economic-development win by getting Foxconn to commit to building a huge glass-screen factory there which promises many thousands of new jobs.

It turns out that there aren’t enough engineers in Wisconsin, or nearby Chicago, or actually anywhere in the United States to fill some of the critical roles to get Foxconn’s manufacturing there off the ground, so some may have to be imported from China. Meanwhile, Walker’s generosity in offering financial incentives to Foxconn is getting part of the blame for the fact that he lost his re-election bid last week.

Read more: Why The AmazonHQ2 List Is Great News For Every CEO


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