Monday, November 19, 2018

On amazon's HQ2 and the coastal-flyover (aka rural-urban) divide (or, on Not Thinking Outside the Urban Box)

James Stewart wrote a few days ago in the New York Times under the headline, "Why Amazon Chose the Wrong Location for its HQ2."  The gist of his story is that Amazon, in choosing Crystal City, Virginia and Long Island City/Queens, New York to share its headquarters with Seattle, missed out on an opportunity to help bridge the rural-urban--or perhaps more precisely, the coastal-flyover divide.  Stewart writes:
For all the transformative potential of Amazon’s nationwide “HQ2” competition, neither New York City nor Washington (nor, to be precise, the Northern Virginia neighborhoods that are being rechristened National Landing) needed Amazon. They’re already thriving and bustling with affluent, well-educated millennials.
Stewart quotes Tom Stringer, head of site selection for the business consulting firm BDO, for the proposition that Amazon’s choice only reaffirms and cements the idea that we have two countries right now, the coasts and the interior.
There are smaller cities in this country that are incredible places to live. They’re great places to raise families, they’re affordable, and they’re fun.
Stewart continues:
In its initial request for proposals, Amazon emphasized many of those qualities, ranking costs second on its list of priorities. That led pundits to eliminate New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, all of them among the most expensive places to live or do business, according to KPMG’s annual Competitive Alternatives survey.
Indeed, among the cities on the finalist list were Nashville (which got a distribution center out of this bidding process), Indianapolis, and Columbus, Ohio.  Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland didn't even make the finals list.

Of course, Indianapolis, Columbus and Nashville are are major metropolitan areas--hardly rural.  But Stewart suggests they represent rural values--or at least heartland ones--more than NYC and northern Virginia/DC metro.

Stewart closes with this somewhat hopeful note about what creativity--iconoclasm--really means, suggesting that it is not just following the herd to where the current hipster human capital clusters are:
And who knows: The truly creative may want to break from the herd and do something original — like moving to St. Louis.
And that is nice segue to this NYTimes Upshot story today, which leads with a reference to Tulsa, OK, at least as a caption for its feature photo.  Here's a quick excerpt from Neil Irwin's Upshot piece, an excerpt that actually uses the word "rural" (something I think Stewart's piece did not do).
[W]e’re living in a world where a small number of superstar companies choose to locate in a handful of superstar cities where they have the best chance of recruiting superstar employees. 
But what’s the economic future for a Hartford or Akron or Tulsa or the countless smaller towns and rural areas that didn’t get so much as a serious look from Amazon?
Irwin then goes on to feature some of the strategies of smaller cities, like the offer by Tulsa's Kaiser Foundation to pay full-time telecommuters $10K to do so from Tulsa.

Irwin also talks to three Brookings Institute Scholars, Clara Hendrickson, Mark Muro and Bill Galston, who analyze what regions and places apart in the race for better economic opportunities.
Parts of rural America lack fast broadband internet, a big disadvantage that the authors want to see addressed. They urge heavy federal investment in 10 or so “growth pole” midsize cities that are close to struggling smaller towns and can serve as economic drivers. 
And finally, [Hendrickson, Muro and Galston] suggest more federal support for people who want to move to greater economic opportunity — a countermeasure for one of the more surprising trends of the last generation, a decline in Americans’ mobility in pursuit of better jobs.
Irwin then quotes Hendrickson: 
What’s increasingly clear after the 2016 election is that the forces that have been really good for the economy in the aggregate, like globalization and technological change, create local shocks that are extremely powerful.
Another piece on how Amazon's HQ2 decision overlooks middle America is here, from Molly G. Martin on New America.  She writes, having documented how many engineering grads are coming out of heartland universities like the University of Wisconsin, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago, and Purdue University:
In a way, Amazon’s missed opportunity isn’t about Indianapolis, not really. This is a city that routinely, and often successfully, punches above its weight. And it can roll with the punches it doesn’t land. This missed opportunity, rather, is more about what it reveals about some of the most powerful and influential businesses: businesses that wring their hands over not being able to find the workers they need fast enough, that worry aloud about what to do about their lily-white, male-dominated workforces, that wonder curiously about “the real America and what on Earth is going on in that heartland of ours”—but then when given the chance to answer all these questions, instead go back to what they know.

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