Amazon has decided it has outgrown Seattle and wants to establish a $5 billion second headquarters to house 50,000 employees in a new city, and this month CEO Jeff Bezos will review dozens of bids from eager cities across the country.
I’ve formed a committee of local leaders to lead Traverse City’s application. We’ll have some stiff competition of course – New York, Boston, Denver, Detroit, San Diego, Chicago, and dozens of other cities are expected to submit bids. But as far as I am concerned, Traverse City is the best place to live in the country, so I figure we have a shot.
Amazon has issued a clear set of criteria to guide their selection: The ability to attract and retain talent: We have some incredibly creative entrepreneurs here and we’re attracting new talent every month. The availability of high-speed internet: By the time Amazon’s headquarters is built, we should have that in place thanks to Traverse City Light & Power supported by motivated business leaders. A great quality of life that includes access to recreational activities – we have that one totally nailed. A community that is walkable and bikeable – we’re certainly competitive when it comes to non-motorized transportation, and we have real momentum for more. An interest in energy-efficient buildings and access to renewable energy – with its recent commitment to powering the city by 100 percent renewable energy, TC is emerging as a clean energy leader.
So why not Traverse City?
Well, most us would agree 50,000 employees would overwhelm our little city. And Amazon is only looking at cities with a population of more than a million. So, of course, I am not really organizing a bid. But what’s no joke is that the average salary of Amazon’s new employees will exceed $100,000. That started me thinking about the potential benefits of recruiting larger companies that pay higher wages to Traverse City. Considering that the average household income in Grand Traverse County is just under $53,000 – and, according to recent study, 44 percent of Traverse City residents have trouble just making ends meet on a weekly basis – I’d say it’s worth exploring.
Traverse City can compete with any city on quality of life, and is well positioned to recruit companies that pay higher wages. But what size of new companies could we handle? Five thousand employees? A thousand? We’re a long way from consensus in this community on the answer, but if you think about Hagerty and what its 800 employees do for our downtown economy, it makes sense to prioritize recruiting other companies of size.
And I’m compelled to point out the glaring irony that Amazon’s domination of the online marketplace is the very thing that threatens the future of the locally-owned businesses that have been the heart and soul of cities across this country, including our proud downtown business community. In my view, Amazon and other huge national corporations aren’t what we need.
For some larger cities, though, the potential upsides are real. As for the competition, I’m pulling for Detroit. Mayor Mike Duggan has teamed up with business leaders to submit a bid. I think the Motor City has limitless potential to grow and thrive in the 21st century.
Finally, a quick note: If you’ve been reading my columns here in the TCBN (and I thank you if you have), I hope you’ve recognized a theme. I’ve sought to make the case that our quality of life drives our economy. That our region can continue to grow jobs in green jobs in agriculture and clean energy; that it’s our amazing natural resources and the character of our community that ultimately attracts people and jobs, and that we have a responsibility to protect these assets and strive to ensure that this economic growth is equitable so that as many people as possible benefit.
After nearly three years of contributing columns in the TCBN, my talented and dedicated colleagues at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities will be sharing this space with me. So, in the coming months you’ll be hearing from a host of new voices. I think you’ll find their ideas worth considering.
This column was originally published in the October 2017 edition of the Traverse City Business News.
Hans Voss is executive director of the Groundwork Center.