DANIELS: With Amazon, we shouldn’t sell ourselves short

March 9, 2018

Humility is a virtue.

And we Hoosiers are nothing if not humble. In fact, I would say we suffer from a surfeit of humility.

While my family and my church always taught that we should not be prideful, and that we should resist crowing about our accomplishments, I sometimes wonder if we as Hoosiers have learned that lesson too well.

People in other states are in awe of our friendliness, our cost of living, the exciting city Indianapolis has become. They view Purdue University as a nationally renowned science and engineering school, not just an Indiana land grant college. They recognize Notre Dame as a university of national reputation—more like one of the Ivy League schools than just a college in fly-over country.

When New York Times writer James B. Stewart wrote about Indianapolis in a January column as a finalist for the Amazon second headquarters, he addressed the “cool factor” and whether we have it.

Ask most residents of Indianapolis—and Indiana as a whole—if Indy is “cool,” and they’ll likely laugh. But people in other states, if they know anything about us, aren’t laughing.

Stewart quoted Bob Stutz, CEO of Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud. Stutz was stunned when first asked to move to Indianapolis from Seattle. He was, in his own parlance, “amazed” by what he found. He raved about our urban-redevelopment accomplishments, our cost of living, our strong work ethic, and our friendliness. He was also surprised to see the level of bipartisan cooperation between our Republican governor and Democratic mayor in their efforts to lure businesses here. This is something we’re accustomed to, but other communities are not.

Despite all this, when asked about our chances, Hoosiers say humbly, “Well, we learned a lot from this experience that will help us in future bids.” Or, “It’s an honor just to make the finals.” Well, to me that sounds a lot like the losing Oscar nominee who says, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

But if you listen carefully to those involved with the bid—from Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness to the Indy Chamber leadership to Visit Indy—you can tell they are not satisfied with bridesmaid status. They are in it to win it. And I believe they think we have a good chance.

That attitude has served us well before.

Think about the 1987 Pan Am Games. Bringing the NCAA to Indianapolis, besting several other cities. And we needn’t even mention Super Bowl XLVI—but let’s do. Not only did we win the opportunity to host the game, we did such a good job of it that journalists, football leadership and fans pretty much universally agreed it was the best-organized and -executed Super Bowl week ever.

But our humility might serve us well, if we can just avoid the strong temptation to undersell ourselves—to be too self-deprecating and not sufficiently outspoken about everything we have to offer.

We have, as the Indy Chamber pointed out to Stewart, a “stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure.” We’re in a great location—truly the Crossroads of America. We have several top-notch educational institutions within an hour’s drive or less (important to Amazon). We have lots of cultural amenities, walking and biking paths, and great restaurants.

OK, we might have our problems; we’re not perfect. But I’d put us up against any of those other contenders, and if I were a betting person, my money would be on us.•

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Daniels, a partner at Krieg DeVault LLP, is a former U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney general, and president of the Sagamore Institute. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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