In a way, Amazon already is in Indianapolis. We’re a regional logistics hub, with lots of Amazon warehouses out near the airport. I’ve met and spoken to people who work there. That’s why we have the Amazon Prime Now same-day delivery service, and also why my new Fire HD 8 tablet arrived less than 24 hours after I placed the order, at no extra charge. (And Amazon just announced it’s going to build another such hub in Atlanta, Georgia.)
But in recent weeks, Amazon has announced it’s starting the search for another city to host a full-fledged second regional headquarters, tantamount to the headquarters it has in Seattle. “We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters,” Jeff Bezos has said. “We’re excited to find a second home.” The stated qualifications are a population of over 1 million, real estate ready for building, good quality of life, and “a stable and business-friendly environment.”
It is, of course, anybody’s guess who will end up getting the nod. The New York Times thinks Amazon’s best choice would be Denver, Colorado. Google News is full of stories on different cities that hope to host this new HQ. And here in Indianapolis, hopes are high that we’ve got a shot. The Indianapolis Star reports that the mayors of Indianapolis and satellite community Fishers are working together on a proposal to pitch Indianapolis as just the sort of place Amazon could find a good home.
In any event, the competition will surely be cutthroat. The regional headquarters could bring 50,000 new jobs with an average compensation of $100,000 to whichever lucky community is ends up the winner. The Chicago Tribune reports that over 100 cities are entering the competion.
So, things are getting a little silly in some respects. That Tribune piece reports that the mayor of Tucson, Arizona sent Jeff Bezos a 21-foot saguaro cactus as an attention-getter. The Seattle Times reports on various quirky behaviors seen around Amazon, one of which—the food trucks—are already an Indianapolis staple as well. The Indy Star has aan editorial saying that Indianapolis is “already a winner” even if it doesn’t get the HQ bid, just by having had enough economic development recently that it could even be considered as a credible contender—and another editorial saying that Indianapolis neighborhoods aren’t ready for the amount of disruption a new business that big moving in would produce.
In any case, Indianapolis already is a thriving business city, hosting a number of big businesses including Anthem, Salesforce (who recently bought the naming rights to the city’s tallest skyscraper from Chase Bank), Angie’s List, Cliff Bars, and a number of others. Job search engine Glassdoor just named us the second-best city in the country for finding a job (right behind Pittsburgh, PA). We may not have quite as much of a cultural community as other contenders, but we’ve got a lot of other great features including a nice central location and a cost of living significantly lower than the national average (and definitely lower than the west coast!)
And I have my hopes that Amazon moving in might drive other improvements, like speeding up the implementation of the new express transit routes, or getting more hotels built that could host attendees for Gen Con. It would almost certainly mean an Amazon Books bookstore somewhere downtown, and possibly even one of those new “Amazon Go” self-service shopping places they’ve been trying out at their HQ in Seattle. Given that it doesn’t seem likely I’ll be traveling to some other city to see one of those any time soon, that might be my only chance to check it out.
So, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed while I wait to see what happens. The deadline for submitting a proposal to Amazon is October 19, and it will probably be a few months after that until they make a final decision.
Here’s a related story about Amazon’s fullfillment centers . (Says economist Michael Mandel: “On average, pay in fulfillment centers is about 30 percent higher than pay in brick-and-mortar retail in the same area. Not only that. Retail jobs tend to be part-time, maybe not paying benefits.The fulfillment centers have a lot of full-time jobs, have the benefits. They seem to be better jobs, as far as I can figure out.”
You’re failing to see the reality. Retail stores are in almost every community in America. Those who work for them have short commutes and get to see friends who come it. For many, it is enjoyable work.
In contrast, Amazon’s fulfillment centers are often located in one place per state. My state does not even have one, so it might be accurate to say Amazon offers no one a job, well-paid or poor, in my entire state. It does nothing to replace the jobs it destroys.
Also, Amazon has a history of locating its fulfillment centers in economically blighted locations. Yes, it may pay more than the few businesses in that community were paying, but the retail jobs its eliminating were better-paying jobs somewhere else.
And to get those jobs, someone who has lost their job has to sell his home, part with friends, and move hundreds of miles—and all that to take up a soulless job treading the concrete floors of a vast warehouse.
As nice as it seems for Amazon, I suspect that better city infrastructure (i.e., mass transit, cost of real estate, proximity to residences, cost of living and current demand) play a bigger part of the choice of where to have a fulfillment center than what inducements a city can offer. In Houston, the fulfillment center is way on the north side, far from mass transit and most Houstonians.
From Amazon’s description, I suspect Amazon is looking for a city that’s attractive to young adults. I am coming to suspect that the company’s employment policy is like that of H. Ross Perot, the billionaire who ran for president in 1992.
Perot was notorious in software development for seducing young computer science graduates into working for his company, exploiting them horribly with long hours, and then dumping them when they wised up and began to demand better treatment.
If you recall, that’s precisely how the NY Times described working conditions at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters in an August 2015 article. Look around and you can probably get around the paywall and read it as well as the controversy that followed.
Billionaires tend to be heartless creeps. A century ago, Henry Ford treated his factory workers so badly, turnover was often over 100% in a year. To counter that, he had to ensure a steady flow of new, not-yet-burned-out workers by using high wages to draw them in from all over the country. Amazon’s plans for a second city is in part to create two sources of those use-and-discard workers. Technology will allow the company to shift projects from one city to the other.
Ford burned out workers based on an ‘efficiency above all else’ work policy called Taylorism, after its inventor. When I read that NY Times article, I realized that, by tracking email responses etc. Amazon had come up with a way to create productivity-measuring ‘metrics’ for white collar workers, precisely what Ford factories had done for workers, driving them to the breaking point on its assembly lines.
What’s really scary is that Apple, IBM and others are busily coming up with ways to inject Taylorism into healthcare. Hospitalized, you may die because your doctor or nurse is under sanctions for not being productive enough.
Here’s a Charlie Chaplin silent film dramatizing what that sort of work was and is like. It’s quite accurate. Workers were given a tiny, meaningless tasks and driven to do them as fast as possible. Notice too the boss that monitors everything done. That’s the metrics. That’s Amazon tracking how fast their management responds to email.
–Michael W. Perry, medical writer
I don’t know if I’d call these communities “lucky.” “Ripped off” is more accurate. They’re typically forced to grant huge tax concessions that shift the tax burden on ri smaller, local businesses who provide more jobs. Even worse are the data centers who provide few jobs but suck up so much electrical power, driving up electrical rates, that other businesses don’t want to move there.
Before I left Seattle, I was pointing out how the city’s politicians were letting its citizens get ripped off by Amazon and its real estate developer, billionaire Paul Allen. The tens of thousands of additional employees Amazon has brought in have driven the city’s home and apartment prices even higher. That’s why I left.
And rather than force Amazon and Paul Allen to cover some of the costs of that increased housing, the city is screwing communities. Where I lived, Phinney/Greenwood, was ideal for someone working for Amazon on South Lake Union. But rather than tax Amazon and use the savings to subsidize housing development there, the city was doing the opposite. Small developers who wanted to build would have to pay huge fees for sewer connections and the like. To reduce their costs overall, the city was authorizing apartment buildings with few or no parking spaces, which will wreck the neighborhoods.
It was classic Seattle politics—enrich the downtown property developers, including Paul Allen, which screwing the city’s communities. Oh, and Amazon is making the city’s traffic woes even worse. The city had fewer north-south arterials now than it had in the late 1960s. Amazon is well on its way to being hated.
Quite a few commentators are making a mistake. They assume this is a ‘fulfillment center’—Amazon-speak for a huge warehouse filled with the poorly paid, brutally driven contract workers some news reports have described. This is not that.
It’ll replicate what Amazon has in Seattle—relatively well-paying, white-collar jobs doing software development and the like. It’s Amazon’s all-too-transparent attempt to create an situation where it can squeeze two cities for concessions far into the future. It can say, “Well Seattle, you now have a city income tax, so we have to pay our workers more. We will counter that by shifting thousands of jobs to That Other City.”
My one disappointment on leaving Seattle was that I had to drop my plans for a sign in my car’s rear window: “I brake for rattlesnakes but not Jeff Bezos.” Bezos is well on his way to becoming what John Rockefeller was a century ago—the most hated man in America. He’s even starting to chatter about charitable giving like JR did.