The ReSET – Dear Amazon

10/2/17

Newt Fowler

I admit it. I had a bit of fun the other week. I ran an Op Ed addressed to Amazon in the Business Journal's sister publication in Seattle. I suggested Amazon think differently about the opportunity presented by HQ2. The incentives that regions will offer will be dazzling but Amazon risks mortgaging the long term health of the very region it selects. Amazon's new headquarters will be a case study in what Richard Florida warns is our new urban crisis, where gentrification and increased costs that come with innovative companies not only displace their less fortunate neighbors but increase the wealth divide. The gist of my Op Ed is that Amazon has incredible leverage to shape for the better of all the community it selects, if it so chooses. The other side of the equation lies with the regions vying for HQ2. Be careful of what you ask for. Absent planning, HQ2 will embody a Faustian pact like no other economic development deal in memory – where everyone doesn’t win.

Would I love to see HQ2 rise at Port Covington? Absolutely. Would I love to see something short of 24 applications coming out of Maryland? We’re up to three so far… But I would like to see Cherry Hill, Morrell Park and Brooklyn rise as well, though not from a gentrifying displacement, but through their integration into the future HQ2 offers. As a recent Brookings Institution report concludes regarding the race for innovative companies, “top-line growth doesn’t ensure bottom-line prosperity.” Brookings and other researchers are learning that regions which run the economic development playbook the old way are lagging. “Leaders in cities and metro areas have an opportunity to remake economic development – to adopt a broader vision of economic development that can deliver continuous growth, prosperity, and inclusion.”Hopefully whichever region lands HQ2 will figure this out in time. Hopefully it will be us in Baltimore.

With more than 30 years’ experience in law and business, Newt Fowler, a partner in Womble Carlyle’s business practice, advises many investors, entrepreneurs and technology companies, guiding them through all aspects of business planning, financing transactions, technology commercialization and M&A. He’s the pastboard chair of TEDCO and serves on the Board of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. Newt can be reached at nfowler@wcsr.com.

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