Editorial: Indy must learn from Amazon loss

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Indianapolis came away without a prize in the just-ended Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes, but those involved in the unsuccessful bid insist the region is still a winner.

Maureen Krauss, the Indy Chamber’s chief economic development officer, encapsulated that sentiment with a statement that read in part, “Simply by being in Amazon’s top 20, we are winners. This honor gave the Indy region and the state the global exposure and the internal learnings to put us in a very positive position for future prospects.”

The latter is the key, and we urge state and local officials to look critically at the city’s bid.

Where did the Indianapolis region shine? Where did it come up wanting? What can we do between now and the next opportunity to be better prepared?

Of course, there’s nothing unusual about losing in an economic development competition. State and city leaders are always in negotiations to try to bring companies to the region. Sometimes they win; sometimes they lose. But typically, no one hears about the work or the outcome—unless it’s positive.

Amazon changed the game by making its search for a second headquarters city (or second and third, as it turned out) a public spectacle. And yes, the investment and jobs at stake in this competition were a little mind-blowing: the potential for $5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs.

Those kinds of projects don’t come around often. But there are always new opportunities on the horizon—which is why it’s essential that the region learn from the Amazon experience.

Krauss and others say officials did that. In a statement, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said he’s “confident that the efforts of our region over the last 14 months will pay dividends for years to come.”

We hope so, too. But like almost everything in economic development, those discussions will almost certainly stay confidential. The city and the chamber have remained largely mum about what the bid included and what incentives state and local officials offered Amazon.

Larry Gigerich, executive managing director at local site selection firm Ginovus Inc., who was part of the bid team, revealed the barest of details. Among them, the city showed Amazon three sites: the GM stamping plant, an area east of downtown that stretched to include the former Angie’s List campus, and the airport location eventually nabbed by Infosys.

Krauss told IBJ that Amazon “didn’t really articulate” any shortcomings in the region. And she said Amazon officials complimented Indianapolis on “our talent pipeline, our sense of community and our ability to work together to solve problems.”

Those are positives Indianapolis should—and already does—lead with as it moves forward.

But of course, the region has shortcomings—with our need for a more educated workforce perhaps at the top of that list.

Amazon might not have articulated them, but the officials working on the city’s bid undoubtedly knew—or learned in the process—what they are.

Now is the time to be bold about addressing issues that might have caused Amazon to choose Nashville, rather than Indianapolis, for its HQ2 consolation prize—a 5,000-job logistics hub.

Regional leaders might not be willing to tell the public the details of its bid, but we urge them to discover and articulate the way they’ll make the bid for the next big opportunity better.•

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