Cold Feet on Amazon HQ2 Philadelphia

Earlier this year I was happy to have been asked by the City of Philadelphia to help connect them to fast movers in Seattle in support of their Amazon HQ2 bid. The cross-functional pitch team was doing their own research and recon, which included spending some time on the ground there, hopefully learning more about the Amazon culture and finding some insights which could increase the hometown chances.

At the time, my thought process surrounding the value of the ‘Zon coming to town was mostly centered on:

    1. The ability of Amazon to attract a different level of tech / digital talent to Philly;
    2. The ability for the companies I’m involved with and others locally to be able to potentially recruit that talent;
    3. The boost to the Philly economy on all fronts and;
    4. Bringing attention and hopefully improvement to Philadelphia’s national brand, which, in my view, is often overly focused on cheese steaks and public altercations involving snowballs, batteries and most recently a horse. The landscape (food, culture, business) has changed in the even the last decade and this town needs to advertise its new position as a city with much to offer to those open to moving.

    In the last six months, however, reading more about Seattle’s current issues and speaking with friends who are current residents, I can’t say that I have not ended up with cold feet on the proposition of “winning” this bid.

    This week Technically Philly ran a piece highlighting the potential upsides and downsides of winning the HQ2 bid, although the author ended up a net positive on the outcome.

    I can’t get there any longer.

    When I think about Philly in its current form, I think of it as an undiscovered gem, with a burgeoning food and cultural scene coupled with a reasonable cost of living that I still consider any startup-up’s first investor.

    The slow and steady organic evolution in the last two decades has added a romance, inclusiveness and kept a “smallness” that we have all been enjoying. I continue to hear visitors remark, “I had no idea this was Philadelphia”. It wasn’t, but it is now. It’s arriving as we speak.

    The word is slowly getting out, and eventually Philly will mature in many ways that other cities already have. In the meantime, I’d hate to see us potentially fracture the magic if we toss Amazon’s 40,000 new six-figure salaries at it and then hope that infrastructure, housing, amenities and even the suburbs can catch up, keep up and stay stable. Rushing the process will likely break a lot of what’s currently great.

    While I will fully agree that Amazon’s immediate impact to the city’s economy, talent pool and national presence will be real and positive, losing the current “small” and accessible elements of Philly will be an immediate loss to what’s finally starting to work so well and evolve.

    And, for those (including me) who are looking for our city to more quickly elevate its brand on the national stage, I’d say we don’t need Amazon HQ2. We just need more Philadelphia evangelists with bigger megaphones and collectively a bit more patience.

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