Lessons for Charleston from Amazon HQ2

June 14, 2018

Amazon’s hunt for a second headquarters (Amazon HQ2) continues to capture international media attention, mainly around which community will ultimately “win” and the implications. Many “think pieces” have been devoted to the criteria the company expects of a 21st Century community: a metro population of 1 million+, non-stop international flights, a modern multimodal transit system, and the talent base, real estate and infrastructure to accommodate an 8 million sq. ft. campus employing 50,000 high-skilled STEM workers.

While the project’s scale was outsize for Charleston, the global competitiveness issues raised are very relevant to us. Amazon’s questions to community officials – in addition to site visits and incentive discussions – echo the growth challenges the Charleston region needs to address if we are to continue to be globally competitive.

The New York Times [One Goal of Amazon’s HQ: Learn the Lessons of Seattle] writes about Amazon’s concerns during site visits to the finalist communities, and I am struck by how those points reinforce the recommendations made in our community’s One Region Competitiveness Strategy.

For example, they quizzed Denver officials on community plans to deal with traffic congestion by increasing public transit options and creating bicycle infrastructure. In Atlanta, Toronto and Newark, Amazon officials expressed concerns about affordable housing, displacement, gentrification, and their potential impact to labor markets.

The One Region Strategy calls for our region’s public & private-sector leaders to work together to address these same issues: building modern infrastructure and a multimodal transportation system; accelerating inclusive economic growth and equity; building attainable housing in proximity to job centers; and aligning our talent development and education activities with the needs of business.

The Charleston region is consistently cited as a top location for businesses and talent, and the CRDA continues to work with dozens of companies considering our market for competitive projects. While much progress has been made, there is significantly more work to be done to realize the One Region Vision: to act as unified region to be a globally competitive place where people and businesses flourish. I encourage you to read up on the strategy and find ways to get involved and make a difference.

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