Amazon announced in early September its plans to develop a second headquarters, issuing a national request for proposals from cities and regions.
This action set off a blizzard of activity in the economic development world, given the high profile of the company, the public nature of its actions and the enormity of the proposed 10-plus-year investment ($5 billion) and job creation (50,000 workers).
In Lancaster and in southcentral Pennsylvania, it triggered a considerable number of inquiries, emails and discussions in some ways akin to contemplating winning the PowerBall.
Amazon’s request is a terrific playbook, providing timely insight into what communities need to be competitive for business.
The stakes for Amazon and whatever community it selects are huge, merely due to the sheer size of the company and its growth needs. Still, the competitive issues Amazon outlines are the same as those that companies in our region face every day as they seek to grow.
Amazon’s request shows the importance the company places on becoming operational quickly in its selected new marketplace, including the need to advance land development right away.
Specifically, it is seeking “shovel-ready” sites, meaning they are zoned properly and have utilities and other infrastructure in place. Such sites demonstrate that the community has already anticipated, and is actively seeking, users with the characteristics of Amazon’s project.
Beyond the specific site needs, Amazon’s request for proposals highlights access to talent and human capital.
Workforce development tops nearly everyone’s list of priorities and is a key factor that separates competitive communities from wannabes. This race for talent will only get stronger given projected demographic shifts over the next 10 years.
Amazon is looking for an area with a strong talent pipeline that flows from a well-educated and highly skilled workforce.
It also highlights quality of life, recreational and educational opportunities, and community cultural fit — all aspects that impact talent retention and attraction, especially for the two biggest cohorts of baby boomers and
millennials. Another key competitive component is the need for quality infrastructure — specifically logistics and transportation, including air, automobile and mass transit. These assets need to be in place in order to move lots of people and goods, locally, globally and as efficiently as possible.
Given the scale of Amazon’s project, all of these factors are of epic proportion, yet the takeaway of managing costs by having effective transportation systems holds true regardless of the size of business.
Like most communities in the U.S., the allure of Amazon required at least a review of their criteria to see if our region is competitive.
Practically speaking, a requirement that has the potential to grow to 50,000 workers, nearly the equivalent of the City of Lancaster, is a tall order, even if we aggregate the combined workforce of south-central Pennsylvania.
Layer on the need for shovel-ready sites that can accommodate up to 8 million square feet and the associated demands for highway and air travel, and all factors would suggest that the Commonwealth’s two major metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, are best positioned in this intriguing national competition.
Lancaster County is likely not the landing place for Amazon’s second headquarters, yet fortunately, many of the key criteria Amazon listed are already the focus of the economic development network here.
A strong workforce, adequate sites for future growth and effective transportation infrastructure are all current discussion topics that, if managed well, will attract high-quality businesses — albeit at a smaller scale than Amazon’s second headquarters.
These existing factors in Lancaster County will lead to strong organic growth from companies already here, which in the long term is the most coveted outcome.
• Lisa Riggs is president of the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County.