The Amazon Bid is an Opportunity, Even if They Pass on Philly


The Amazon bid has provided a great opening for a new, more positive narrative about Philadelphia to take hold locally, but Center City District President Paul Levy is out with a timely corrective to some of the marketing glitz, warning us not to get complacent.

The main point of Levy's piece is to highlight the well-known and ongoing weaknesses in the city's economy and business policy, but the last few paragraphs connecting this back to the Amazon bid make some important points about the Amazon situation that are worth amplifying.
By all means pursue Amazon, he says, but when thinking about an incentive package, let's do things that are good for all businesses, and lay the foundation for long-term growth. 
"[T]he pursuit of Amazon, win or lose, brings together economic developers, businesses, residents, elected officials, students and even architectural critics, to assess our strengths and challenges, highlight needed infrastructure investments and forge good habits of working collaboratively for regional gain.

By all means, pursue Amazon with its potential for up to 50,000 new jobs by 2027. But as with millennials, it’s no silver bullet. Resist the temptation to rely only on one-off inducements that cut more holes in the Swiss cheese that is our business tax structure. “Urban economies aren’t really built by winning a contest,” Bruce Katz of Brookings recently wrote, “they are grown methodically by building on a region’s strengths … the race for long-term prosperity isn’t defined by the months-long sprint to lure $5 billion of investment from Amazon; the real game is the marathon” in which cities capitalize on their strategic assets.

Pursue Amazon, but stay focused on across-the-board, more equitable tax reform. Stay focused on quality-of-life issues too. Create a climate where all businesses grow, opportunity expands and the local tax base broadens to fund the quality schools and services this city needs."

If we do happen to have a shot at HQ2, we should be thinking about policy changes that would benefit all businesses in Philly, not just "one-off inducements," as Levy says, meant to benefit a single large employer. Phasing out the net income portion of BIRT, for example, would be one way to help Amazon while also helping improve the business climate for other new and existing companies at the same time. 

Amazon isn't the only large employer in the United States, and when national publications consistently rank Philly as one of the top best choices for Amazon, that's bound to get us a second look from other large companies even if Amazon passes. 

It's unfortunately all too easy to imagine Amazon announcing their choice of another city, and that being the end of serious concerted efforts to improve Philly's business climate for a while. We hope that's not the case, since the bid opportunity seems to have helped organize a very talented working group of people from the City and the business community who we hope will continue working together on more fundamental approaches to jumpstarting job growth in Philly, whether or not we get HQ2.

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  • Jon Geeting
    published this page in Blog 2017-10-27 11:16:58 -0400