North American cities are competing to host Amazon’s new headquarters. Here’s what they should do

Amazon HQ, Seattle. Image: Getty.

Cities across the US and Canada are locked in fierce competition to host Amazon’s second headquarters – known as HQ2. This is a big race: a shortlist of 20 cities seems to think this particular corporate investment can go a long way to solving some of their ongoing economic problems.

The process of inward investment – whereby large firms establish operations in a new location, either at home or abroad – has been seen for a long time as a way of creating positive economic change. They can create many new jobs in areas which are crying out for them, but they also bring new entrepreneurial activity, improved management skills, international know-how and a wider boost to other local businesses.

But these decisions can cause big problems. As is typical, Amazon has effectively set off a competition between a number of major US cities for its investment, which means they will all now be trying to outbid each other in terms of the “offer” they can make. This will include their existing assets such as land, infrastructure, transport connectivity and, most importantly, people – ideally with the right blend of skills and aptitudes that Amazon needs.

The big downside of this form of competition is that cities will start offering inducements of a fiscal nature – usually in the form of tax breaks – in order to capture the big prize.

A big prize

Amazon is now one of the biggest businesses in the world, having very successfully tapped into our growing desire for the convenience of online shopping and deliveries to our doorstep. The business is evolving and expanding, and the company now needs a second major HQ operation, in addition to their existing global control centre in Seattle.

With the promise of up to 50,000 new jobs and $5bn in construction investment, it is no surprise that over 230 US cities threw their hats into the ring for this major prize. Bids were invited, and then a shortlist of 20 possible host cities drawn up. This list includes major metropolises such as Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities such as Indianapolis, Miami, Austin and Columbus, Ohio.

Major inward investments do indeed have the capacity for major economic uplift. But it’s not just the volume of jobs that might be created locally which is important – it’s how this new investment becomes truly embedded into the local and wider regional economy. There are many examples of big business investing in an area, only to up sticks a decade later and move on to the next best location – often overseas - to take advantage of lower operating costs.

The long game

Each bidding city needs to be very clear about what it is prepared to offer Amazon. If this includes tax incentives, then there also needs to be an obvious, long-term payoff, in terms of local economic impact. The winning city must have a firm strategy in place for receiving Amazon, and this needs to cover a few significant factors. For instance, the city needs to have a clear idea of how many new jobs will really be created, how good they are and over what time period they will appear.


Amazon, like many big e-commerce businesses, will be quick to take advantage of the efficiency savings driven by automation and artificial intelligence. This may eventually reduce the total number of jobs available in its new facility.

Ideally, the city that wins will be able to create a business environment that encourages Amazon to locate more and better quality jobs away from Seattle and not just have lower-order, back office functions in its new operation.

Similarly, inward investment can have a major impact economically by strengthening local supply chains – those local businesses that can provide specialised goods and services to the new arrival. These supply chains need to operate effectively and be supported with managerial, infrastructural and skills enhancement, so that they become a critical part of Amazon’s business model. That way, the firm will not want to move away later on, because it cannot take its unique local supply chain operation with it. Better to stay put and keep investing in the host location.

The ConversationThe race to win the new Amazon HQ should not be a quick sprint to the finish. It’s more like a marathon that needs careful, long-term planning if the full benefits are to be achieved for the winning city.

Jim Coleman, Professor of Professional Practice, University of Westminster.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Everybody hates the Midlands, and other lessons from YouGov’s latest spurious polling

Dorset, which people like, for some reason. Image: Getty.

Just because you’re paranoid, the old joke runs, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. By the same token: just because I’m an egomaniac, doesn’t mean that YouGov isn’t commissioning polls of upwards of 50,000 people aimed at me, personally.

Seriously, that particular pollster has form for this: almost exactly a year ago, it published the results of a poll about London’s tube network that I’m about 98 per cent certain* was inspired by an argument Stephen Bush and I had been having on Twitter, at least partly on the grounds that it was the sort of thing that muggins here would almost certainly write up. 

And, I did write it up – or, to put it another way, I fell for it. So when, 364 days later, the same pollster produces not one but two polls, ranking Britain’s cities and counties respectively, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that CityMetric and YouGuv are now locked in a co-dependent and potentially abusive relationship.

But never mind that now. What do the polls tell us?

Let’s start with the counties

Everybody loves the West Country

YouGov invited 42,000 people to tell it whether or not they liked England’s 47 ceremonial counties for some reason. The top five, which got good reviews from between 86 and 92 per cent of respondents, were, in order: Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Somerset. That’s England’s four most south westerly counties. And North Yorkshire.

So: almost everyone likes the South West, though whether this is because they associate it with summer holidays or cider or what, the data doesn’t say. Perhaps, given the inclusion of North Yorkshire, people just like countryside. That would seem to be supported by the fact that...


Nobody really likes the metropolitan counties

Greater London was stitched together in 1965. Nine years later, more new counties were created to cover the metropolitan areas of Manchester, Liverpool (Merseyside), Birmingham (the West Midlands), Newcastle (Tyne&Wear), Leeds (West Yorkshire and Sheffield (South Yorkshire). Actually, there were also new counties covering Teesside (Cleveland) and Bristol/Bath (Avon), too, but those have since been scrapped, so let’s ignore them.

Not all of those seven counties still exist in any meaningful governmental sense – but they’re still there for ’ceremonial purposes’, whatever that means. And we now know, thanks to this poll, that – to the first approximation – nobody much likes any of them. The only one to make it into the top half of the ranking is West Yorkshire, which comes 12th (75 per cent approval); South Yorkshire (66 per cent) is next, at 27th. Both of those, it may be significant, have the name of a historic county in their name.

The ones without an ancient identity to fall back on are all clustered near the bottom. Tyne & Wear is 30th out of 47 (64 per cent), Greater London 38th (58 per cent), Merseyside 41st (55 per cent), Greater Manchester 42nd (53 per cent)... Not even half of people like the West Midlands (49 per cent, placing it 44th out of 47). Although it seems to suffer also from the fact that...

Everybody hates the Midlands

Honestly, look at that map:

 

Click to expand.

The three bottom rated counties, are all Midlands ones: Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire – which, hilariously, with just 40 per cent approval, is a full seven points behind its nearest rival, the single biggest drop on the entire table.

What the hell did Bedfordshire ever do to you, England? Honestly, it makes Essex’s 50 per cent approval rate look pretty cheery.

While we’re talking about irrational differences:

There’s trouble brewing in Sussex

West Sussex ranks 21st, with a 71 per cent approval rating. But East Sussex is 29th, at just 65 per cent.

Honestly, what the fuck? Does the existence of Brighton piss people off that much?

Actually, we know it doesn’t because thanks to YouGov we have polling.

No, Brighton does not piss people off that much

Click to expand.

A respectable 18th out of 57, with a 74 per cent approval rating. I guess it could be dragged up by how much everyone loves Hove, but it doesn’t seem that likely.

London is surprisingly popular

Considering how much of the national debate on these things is dedicated to slagging off the capital – and who can blame people, really, given the state of British politics – I’m a bit surprised that London is not only in the top half but the top third. It ranks 22nd, with an approval rating of 73 per cent, higher than any other major city except Edinburgh.

But what people really want is somewhere pretty with a castle or cathedral

Honestly, look at the top 10:

City % who like the city Rank
York 92% 1
Bath 89% 2
Edinburgh 88% 3
Chester 83% 4
Durham 81% 5
Salisbury 80% 6
Truro 80% 7
Canterbury 79% 8
Wells 79% 9
Cambridge 78% 10

These people don’t want cities, they want Christmas cards.

No really, everyone hates the Midlands

Birmingham is the worst-rated big city, coming 47th with an approval rating of just 40 per cent. Leicester, Coventry and Wolverhampton fare even worse.

What did the Midlands ever do to you, Britain?

The least popular city is Bradford, which shows that people are awful

An approval rating of just 23 per cent. Given that Bradford is lovely, and has the best curries in Britain, I’m going to assume that

a) a lot of people haven’t been there, and

b) a lot of people have dodgy views on race relations.

Official city status is stupid

This isn’t something I learned from the polls exactly, but... Ripon? Ely? St David’s? Wells? These aren’t cities, they’re villages with ideas above their station.

By the same token, some places that very obviously should be cities are nowhere to be seen. Reading and Huddersfield are conspicuous by their absence. Middlesbrough and Teesside are nowhere to be seen.

I’ve ranted about this before – honestly, I don’t care if it’s how the queen likes it, it’s stupid. But what really bugs me is that YouGov haven’t even ranked all the official cities. Where’s Chelmsford, the county town of Essex, which attained the dignity of official city status in 2012? Or Perth, which managed at the same time? Or St Asaph, a Welsh village of 3,355 people? Did St Asaph mean nothing to you, YouGov?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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*A YouGov employee I met in a pub later confirmed this, and I make a point of always believing things that people tell me in pubs.