Amazon HQ2: A Blessing or a Curse?

Think about the community you live in.  What about it do you enjoy the most? How would you describe its brand? How does that brand affect the quality of life for residents, and how does it drive the community’s future?  

Sioux Falls (and South Dakota in general) is not typically in the conversation of unique and thriving city brands. After all, we are Fly Over Country; we are the middle child, often forgotten and overlooked. However, it is this brand that many of the residents hold most dear. We are resilient, we are humble, and we will get the job done. One of our most well known qualities is our willingness and eagerness to work with new and existing businesses. This has allowed our economy to not only weather numerous economic storms, but flourish in recent years. Sioux Falls has a thriving entrepreneurial community which helps drive innovation and creativity. It has arguably become a part of our brand. How would this change if one single new business entity moved to town and brought with it the promise of billions of dollars of investment and tens of thousands of well paying jobs? Two cities on the east coast will soon find out.

Amazon has been on the hunt for the home of its new HQ2 facility, which is said to employ 50,000 individuals. That is a massive potential for economic growth. Amazon recently threw a curve ball and announced the HQ2 would be split into two separate facilities, each housing 25,000 employees.  The two lucky winners are: Long Island City in the New York City borough of Queens, and Crystal City, Virginia – just south of Washington, DC.

While both of these cities already have a mature identity, population, and economy, the rapid influx of 25,000 jobs and massive economic development will no doubt alter their brand permanently. Simply being associated with Amazon will change how the outside world views the city as well as how residents view themselves. Will this altered sense of self prove to be beneficial, or detrimental to the city’s future? Will it align with where they want to go? In this case…my gut says yes.

Interestingly, the additional 25,000 jobs equates to only one-quarter of one percent of the labor force in New York City’s metro area, and only three-quarters of one percent of the Washington metro area. (Badger, New York Times, 2018) According to the South Dakota Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have about 444,900 employed workers in the entire state. An increase of 50,000 jobs would equate to an increase of roughly 11% of the entire state of South Dakota’s employment numbers. This would absolutely, positively, no doubt change the state’s identify and values. Now imagine the effect this would have if all 50,000 new jobs were in one single city!  Who wouldn’t want more jobs and billions of dollars of investment? Although it seems like a no brainer, is it always the right move?

If a powerhouse such as Amazon were to move to town, the way the city functions and operates would undoubtedly change. Amazon showed us a perfect example of this when they actively opposed a head-tax proposed by the city of Seattle. The tax essentially would have required for-profit companies above a certain size to pay a tax on every employee, with the funds going towards homeless services. Being one of the largest employers in the city, this would have had massive implications for Amazon. When Amazon threatened to halt its expansion in the city if this tax was adopted, Seattle’s city council decided to turn down the tax. To be clear, I am not advocating for or against this particular situation because I have not looked into it enough to fully understand the details of it all. I simply use this as an example of how much influence a large corporation can have on a mid-size city. Whether or not the tax was fair, or Amazon was justified in their opposing it makes no difference.  In the end, the tax failed because Amazon was openly against it.

That brings me to my main question: how would South Dakota’s brand change if a company such as Amazon suddenly announced it would bring 50,000 new jobs to the state? What about your local community? Would it be a blessing, or a curse?  Please share your thoughts below!

PS – the links below provide great insight into this particular topic, and offer a great read before you head off to bed.

 

What Amazon’s HQ2 Will Mean for a City’s Brand

https://www.curbed.com/2018/11/13/18091542/amazon-hq2-new-york-city-arlington-va-branding

 

Dominating Retail? Yes. Reviving a City? No Thanks.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/13/upshot/amazon-headquarters-reviving-a-city-no-thanks.html

Josh Muckenhirn, AIA is a licensed Architect at ISG in Sioux Falls, SD. He received his M. Arch from NDSU in 2014, ventured further north for 2 years, and has called Sioux Falls home since the summer of 2016.  His claim to fame is (at one point) being able to solve a Rubik’s cube in 32 seconds.

One Reply to “Amazon HQ2: A Blessing or a Curse?”

  1. I’m interested in the architectural approach Amazon may take in their building design. I’m more familiar with Crystal City than Long Island City, and from what I remember of that area, it has a pretty “blah” architecture of non-descript office buildings, given its proximity to Reagan International Airport (at least east of the highway. Going west has a more eclectic community with some good eats, if my taste buds serve my memory correct). Maybe Amazon can liven things up a bit, assuming their HQ will focus around the Jefferson Davis Highway.

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