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The Mid-Sized Cities on Amazon’s HQ2 List Might Have the Best Shot

Walker Evans Walker Evans The Mid-Sized Cities on Amazon’s HQ2 List Might Have the Best ShotPhoto by Walker Evans.
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“Overlook us at your own peril.”

Steve Schoeny, Director of the Columbus Department of Development, didn’t mince words when talking about the Amazon HQ2 proposal announcement on a phone call with Columbus Underground yesterday afternoon. His quote above was in direct response to the reaction by national media outlets like The New York Times that labeled Columbus as a “surprise” to be seen alongside expected finalists like Denver and Dallas.

“From a timing standpoint, Amazon hadn’t given any indication when the announcement would be made, so that was kind of a surprise,” explained Schoeny. “But in terms of making the top 20 list, I’m really not that surprised. I think they’re looking at a mid-sized city option.”

City representatives have long touted Columbus as a great place to do business, based on its central geographic region, its younger demographics, a strong white-collar workforce, and a large talent pipeline through multiple regional colleges.

But local economist Bill Lafayette pointed out that the Columbus economy is already at a point where the job market is growing tight for existing businesses.

“The Columbus MSA’s unemployment rate is at 17-year lows, and while we are not yet at full employment, we are getting there,” he explained. “If my 2018 economic forecast is even remotely correct, employers will have an even harder time finding talent at the end of the year than they are now.”

Schoeny said that building the talent pool to fill the estimated 50,000 high tech jobs that Amazon would produce with the HQ2 project isn’t an issue that would be unique to Columbus.

“I don’t care if you’re New York City or Columbus or Peoria, you’re going to have to have a collaborative solution for something this large,” he stated. “I think we can answer that question well because of the educational institutions and existing businesses, but we’ll also need a K-12 pipeline across the entire region and be involved in continuing to make Columbus an attractive place for people to move to.”

While Amazon’s Seattle headquarters is located in the urban core of the city, it has not yet been revealed where a project of this nature would fit in Downtown Columbus or any surrounding community with the capacity to hold eight million square feet of new Class A office space development. Schoeny declined the opportunity to discuss speculative site selection, but stated that the research and discovery process are being discussed in full.

“I think we’re going into this with a deep appreciation for how this project could change the city, and we want to make sure that it’s good for our city,” he said. “We also relish being an underdog in this scenario, and the opportunity that gives us to take advantage of the fact that people underestimate us.”

Check back with CU for more updates.

For more information on Amazon HQ2, visit www.amazon.com.

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