Yes, cities should indeed fight for tech jobs

Yes, cities should indeed fight for tech jobs
From TechCrunch - January 19, 2018

Few events have jolted the urban planning crowd quite like Amazons process for selecting the companys new second headquarters (dubbed HQ2). The company put up a massive carrot of 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment, and then proceeded to demand proposals from cities across North America (lovingly written up by Clickhole). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon received 238 proposals, and this week chose twenty finalists.

Apple is also getting in the game now, announcing this week that it too is going to build a new campus that would focus on technical support, at least initially. While it hasnt announced a request for proposals yet, it did say the decision on location will be announced later in the year.

While city officials are rushing to put together proposals, urban thinkers are aghast at these so-called reverse RFPs. Amy Liu, who runs Brookings Institutions prominent Metropolitan Policy Program and spoke to NPR about Amazons process, said that Its created a major distraction from what the real day-to-day economic development activity should be. Which, apparently, is not job creation.

More ominously, Seattle Times staff columnist Danny Westneat warned the winning city of Amazons HQ2 process that Amazon is about to detonate a prosperity bomb in your town.

A prosperity bomb! Maybe Hawaii can send out an alert.

What all these critics are missing though is that the economy has changed dramatically over the past thirty years. Everyone is competing for better jobs and better income, be they workers and citizens or cities, states, and even national governments. China is competing ferociously to bring back AI talent to its mainland from the United States in just the same way that Illinois is trying to get Amazon to set up shop through a payroll tax recapture strategy.

Heres what I see with the Amazon process: 238 cities across North America, in just a few weeks, managed to each put together their own proposals on what they would offer to bring the company to their area. Boston has taken decades to extend the green line to Somerville, but managed to put together a second-phase winning proposal for Somerville in just a matter of weeks.

Now thats government speed I can start to like.

This approach to government is starting to become the only way to get things done. A single apartment building in San Francisco can take hundreds of hours of debate to get approved, as the YIMBY movement has learned over the past two years. But when cities compete for jobs or investment, they seem to be able to make decisions almost instantly.

Critics too often focus on the tax incentives while ignoring the fact that these economic development proposals are often lifelines for infrastructure projects that will otherwise never see the light of day.


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