I, too, like business leader Dan Gilbert and others, was disappointed that Detroit was eliminated in the first round of the bidding process for Amazon’s second headquarters. That means the proposal the city and regional leaders presented to the retail giant wasn’t strong enough.
All the more surprising is the level of marketing and optimism that accompanied the sales pitch. Those putting the proposal together seemed to understand exactly what Jeff Bezos and his company were looking for. Apparently not, and Amazon has moved on.
Our failure to lure Amazon speaks volumes about our competitiveness vis-a-vis the places that made the cut. From the type of cities that passed the first round — such as Boston, New York, Denver and Washington, D.C. —it is safe to conclude that Amazon did not want to come to Detroit to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it wants to come in and hit the ground running.
Any Detroiter who has traveled to those cities will bear witness that they have, among other important factors, well-established transit systems. In fact, they are widely seen as good tourist and investment destinations. But they also have a good talent pool, which was reported as a key factor for the Amazon deal.
Detroit still lags behind on the question of a regional transit system that would have made the city’s application more appealing. And on the question of a ready talent, we are still struggling. Add a troubling public education system to the list of frustrations about the city’s readiness for a very big deal like an Amazon investment.
Employers like to hire experienced and dependable applicants rather than inexperienced and green candidates because they want to start reaping benefits without delay. There is little or no room for patience and speculation.
Amazon is more likely to choose a city that has a ready infrastructure that can better facilitate a quick turnaround for its investments. It is not bound to see Detroit through the lens of the proposal the city presented. It has the right to pitch its tent wherever it will make the most business sense.
Detroit and all who were involved have to figure out why it was unable to make a compelling pitch that matched the strength of the Amazon brand. It will be crucial for future opportunities to see how well they can articulate what makes Detroit compelling for companies of Amazon’s ilk.
I agree that Detroit is ripe for investment and that the city has a lot to offer investors than just its close proximity to Canada. But Detroit also has social and economic challenges, and it is not lost on Amazon that we are the largest poverty-stricken city in the nation.
This rejection if anything should now be a catalyst to seriously tackle some of the challenges that prevented us from landing the thousands of jobs that would have accompanied Amazon to the Motor City.
However, all is not lost. We can do better. We must all — both the celebrated experts and the often ignored non-experts — join hands to get the city ready for the next prime-time opportunity.
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