Richard Florida, author, editor and Professor at the University of Toronto, is part of a growing chorus of prominent thinkers across the continent who are speaking out against the race to the bottom that Amazon's search for a second headquarters has induced. Strong Towns is fully in agreement that cities should compete on their merits and strengths, not on the amount of local tax dollars they're willing to pony up.
"Here we have mayors that I really admire [...]" says Florida, "backing up the dump-truck full of $5-7 billion dollars of our taxpayer money to give to, arguably, the most highly valued company in the world — a company that just made $19 billion in its last quarter, led by the world's richest man. And we, the taxpayers, are going to subsidize them? Something smelled really wrong with that and that's what motivated me to speak up."
So Florida wrote a letter and invited urban leaders, developers and economists to sign onto it — President of Strong Towns Chuck Marohn included. The letter asks elected officials in the HQ2 finalist cities to sign a mutual non-aggression pact that rejects egregious tax giveaways and direct monetary incentives for Amazon. So far, more than 1,100 people have signed it. You can join them.
For whatever city actually ends up being home to the new headquarters, Florida thinks the outcome won't be nearly as rosy as most city leaders seem to currently believe. "It's going to drive up housing prices. It's going to put pressure on wage rates. It's going to put pressure on transit. It's going to put pressure on local services. And yet [Amazon's] taking billions from that city?"
Florida and those who signed onto his letter are hoping city leaders realize that taking a stand against Amazon will benefit them, both from a public relations standpoint and in terms of the outcomes for their communities. If one or two prominent mayors say No to handouts for Amazon, it could make a big impact on the future of American cities.
"This Amazon HQ2 will either be the model of how not to do economic development and a disaster for cities and the winning city (and, I believe, for Amazon)," says Florida. "Alternatively, it could be the model for how to do economic development. It could be a model for big companies and cities partnering together to do everything we know is the right way to do more inclusive and sustainable economic development. And I'm going to use every platform I have to try to push it in that latter direction."
(Top photo source: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee)