I’ve been thinking about Amazon’s HQ2 lately, mostly because of a constant barrage of news stories coming out of Indianapolis about how much it would mean to the city if Amazon were to choose them. It’s really sort of embarrassing, this pleading. I wish Indy had a little pride, you know, like San Antonio. Alas, wishing doesn’t make it so. They’re actually starting to believe they have a shot.
Why do I care? Mostly because I have family there and I think it’s reckless and irresponsible to waste time on this nonsense. A big part of success when it comes to this sort of thing is being able to take an honest look in the mirror and assess both your strengths and weaknesses. For whatever reason, Indianapolis isn’t doing this. If they were, they wouldn’t be all in. They wouldn’t be in at all. I mean, the city can’t even maintain its grid of streets which are crumbling so badly that they will likely have to be rebuilt from the ground up. If you can’t get the basic stuff right, it’s a disservice to the people who rely on you for leadership to be chasing after pure blue sky.
Other Midwestern cities still in the mix include Chicago and Columbus. I think they’re long shots as well. Chicago certainly has the bandwidth to support Amazon and they snagged another Seattle company (Boeing) a few years back so I simply cannot rule them out. They just strike me as a city of the past, whereas Amazon is the future. Columbus is the site of a major research university, but then again, so is Austin. I can’t think of any reason why Columbus would have an edge over Austin.
I’m not saying Austin is going to win the sweepstakes. In fact, my money is still on Atlanta, Toronto or Washington DC. That said, one thing I really like about Austin is how much energy is directed inward as opposed to the sort of outward begging so popular elsewhere. They’ve had a great deal of success in terms of fostering an environment where UT grads can start companies that grow and prosper. Michael Dell comes to mind. There have been others as well. If they lose, it won’t be as devastating to them as it will be to a place like Indianapolis.
I think Midwestern cities like Indianapolis and Columbus should be focusing on internal growth (like Austin) instead of chasing after elephants like Amazon. Bet on your own people instead of the sexy outsider. Empower them. Make it easy for them to risk and succeed. Great cities don’t chase after everything that glitters. They bet on themselves first. If losing HQ2 causes Midwestern cities to change their mindset of needing validation from outside the region, then it’s going to be a good thing for them going forward. If not, then it’s 100% their own fault.