Amazon HQ2 in Philly – Round 2

A little bit ago I wrote a post detailing why I’m starting to get some cold feet on Amazon choosing Philly as HQ2. The gist of my concern is that the potential speed with which Amazon will impact the city’s culture, costs and infrastructure may prove to be too great, in effect destabilizing (breaking) things via the inorganic growth spurt.

Since then, I’ve continued to collect data points and I’ve also continued to have interesting and enlightening conversations with a wide range of folks: insiders, outsiders, tech, non-tech, public servants and friends living in town.

Here are a few of the more interesting follow-up conversations I’ve had.

Someone shared with me that the initial job influx from the ‘Zon will be stepped, and only be a few thousand in the first few years. This assuages my infrastructure concerns a bit, hopefully giving the city some time to ramp up and prepare before tens of thousands of new jobs hit. I do tend to see Amazon double down on anything that’s working, so I am skeptical that they wouldn’t just move faster to colonize their new home if a post-launch revised forecast shows it would enhance the company’s benefits sooner.

I still call Philly “RevZilla’s first investor” because it was so cheap to be here. That cheap is probably going to go away over time, anyway, as the city’s brand and amenities continue to mature to their full potential. Gradual change is probably a better curve, though.

Even if Amazon does follow the current stepped growth plan, I don’t think it will do anything to stop the cost of living bump we’re going to see from a upswing in real estate demand and speculation that may immediately take effect upon Philly “winning”.

Another close friend also made a great point. “Imagine you are not you, but a city resident that may be in true need of the boom in job creation the city will experience”.

A very valid point.

I’d expect the economic influx would create a ton of new opportunities on all levels. Certainly a great and needed thing for the Philadelphia I know.

Over a five-, ten- or fifteen-year gentrification cycle, however, how far will those Philly residents need to commute each day from wherever they are ultimately forced to reside? The central areas of so many other large cities and developed cities are nearly untouchable to all but those with considerable means. I shudder to think about housing costs and commuter distances in cities such as Seattle and San Francisico. That equation is broken, but I always hope a more mature Philly ecosystem can find a reasonable middle instead of the extremes that have happened elsewhere.

At this stage, I still think that DC has to be in the lead. It has the foundational things like infrastructure and East Coast proximity to the EU, although I’m not sure what types of tax incentives will be offered comparatively.

The Washington Post, the need for Amazon to potentially lobby and defend itself on Capitol Hill more frequently in the future and the fact that Bezos already has a residence, all further support my instinct that they’re in the lead.

I do still think Philly has a puncher’s chance, but I’m hoping we can “get the milk for free” on this one, potentially coming in a runner up.

What I mean by that is that we can win by not winning. We could surprise the national landscape with our ability to hang to the end of the process, elevating the story of the New Philadelphia’s culture, cost of living and amenities. Give the hometown brand a boost, which will help reposition us for a more organic future.

Also, this whole process has forced a ton of the city’s key people and institutions to band together and figure out a more compelling collective future vision of Philadelphia, along with a plan on how to build and support it. I bet some of that elevated planning could be put to work, Bezos or not.

I could be totally wrong on this, but I’m hoping we may be able to increase Philly’s momentum, without the risk of breaking some of the best elements of our still emerging city.

We’ll find out soon enough.