Thank You, Jeff Bezos: Why Amazon’s HQ2 Hunt Was Great For CEOs Across America

Jeff Bezos, Credit: Amazon
Jeff Bezos
Credit: Amazon

No matter what you think of Amazon’s HQ2 safari, you’ve got to admit it’s been one of the all-time great publicity stunts in the history of corporate America. A quick HQ2 search of Google News returns a stunning 3.5 million entries, and 17 pages of links to stories from just late October through mid November. If any press is good press, it’s hard to imagine a better result.

A lot of the press, of course, has not been so hot. As you’d expect Amazon has been blasted from both the right and left for “crony capitalism,” “corporate welfare,” etc. That’s silly. State EcDev folks are a pretty savvy bunch. They get what’s at stake here—even if the blathering class does not.

Still, there’s an understandable hangover from the process. “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.”

But simple math dictates that the fix was in from the start. You need a truly massive local population to fill 25,000 new jobs of any kind, let alone the most-difficult-to-fill high-tech jobs at a time when the national unemployment rate for those with a college degree is 2%. Amazon admitted as much by splitting the project in two and then situating it in two of the largest, best-educated cities in the nation. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine them going anywhere else, isn’t it?

Rather than lament lost opportunity, here’s another way to see things: In ginning up the Great Amazonian Headquarters Hunt, Jeff Bezos did the rest of the CEOs in America—and their counterparts in state and local government—a huge service. He provided an impetus for EcDev departments all over the country to really focus on helping business. Not just tax breaks, but truly critical stuff like assessing their workforce; the local education system; congestion; housing; airports; energy; infrastructure; crime; quality of life—all the things that government should be thinking about when it comes to building the economy.

So while any CEO reading this would of course love to find the same kind of people Amazon is searching for, the truth is that almost none of you need find 50,000 of them in the next couple years (thankfully?).

But what about 25 or 250—or maybe even 2,500—great people? That’s a different story.

So why not just follow the trail laid down by Amazon—the hundreds of locales around the nation that may not be right for HQ2 (or even an HQ for you), but would be a great place for a satellite office or expansion site.

Chances are the local government in a hundred places is more prepared to talk with you than ever before—even if it never makes the news.