When I woke up Thursday and saw the news that Charlotte was snubbed in the Amazon HQ2 shortlisting announcement, I went through a progression of feelings. It began as disappointment that all the hard work so many had put in didn’t net our desired result. It then quickly moved to happiness that Raleigh made the cut and resolve to help their leaders pitch the regional value prop we had planned to use for ourselves. Then I read the limited details that Amazon had released, and I became deeply confused.
If you had told me a month ago that the short list would include 20 cities, I would have with absolute sincerity told you there is no way Charlotte wouldn’t make that list. I’m not one to drink our own Kool-Aid and say Charlotte was likely to be the overall HQ2 winner, but anyone who has read the nine criteria Amazon requested knows our city has a strong argument to make. Items 1-4 all center around specific sites and incentives, and you can probably count on one hand the total number of people who have seen those. Items 5-9, however, focus on things like quality of life, airports, transit, population, universities, entertainment and intangibles. In my opinion, we have firm footing to make the argument we are more competitive than several of the others that made the cut. And for the most important criteria of fulfilling their talent needs, one needs to look no further than the stat citing Charlotte as the top city in the nation for relocating millennials. On talent, it’s also important to understand that no one can fulfill a 50,000 hiring requirement on day one.
So what happened? There has to be something missing here. Did we not tell our story correctly? Did we not have the right people at the table? I firmly believe incentives and subsidies are not the sole, or even the major, measures that are driving top companies to make these final decisions. To be clear, I’m not jumping to any conclusions that someone is to blame here – in fact, I know everyone involved worked incredibly hard.
If you accept the premise that Charlotte met more of the nine RFP criteria than others selected, though, you have to accept the conclusion that we have an opportunity here to improve how we tell our story. And improving right away is critical, not just because we have another golden opportunity to make a play for Apple’s next campus, but because there are thousands of smaller economic development opportunities that our city could more effectively win because of who we are, not just what we can give.
I am publicly calling for a post mortem analysis to be carried out by all of the major players involved, led by a credible, independent party. Also, in the name of transparency, I’m calling for the Charlotte HQ2 proposal submission to be made public now that we are no longer in the running. I’m sure there are some elements that may need to be redacted to keep our partners locally and in Raleigh competitive, but other cities in this very submission process have practiced this type of transparency already, and we can certainly benefit from figuring out where opportunities to improve exist.
To my progressive friends: there are many long-term issues we need to solve relevant to infrastructure, public safety and upward mobility so we are competitive in the future. But this short-term examination is low-hanging fruit that could bear immediate results. To my conservative friends: this is not about throwing more taxpayer-funded subsidies at companies. It’s about telling the story of who we are and why the talent they will require to be competitive in the 21st century wants to live here. We don’t have a minute to waste, so let’s get to work.
Bokhari, a Republican, represents District 6 on the Charlotte City Council.