Political, economic ‘to-do list’ is offered in Amazon’s hunt for HQ2


The Right Place deserves much credit for its leadership in a collaborative approach to creating a proposal for Amazon to consider in its search for Amazon HQ2, but even more impactful is what Amazon is teaching Grand Rapids, and other cities across the country, in what it means for a governmental unit or region to be considered “successful” through the lens of a highly successful, serial entrepreneur and a company earning $136 billion in net sales. The proposal by economic developers in Michigan (for both Detroit and Grand Rapids’ bids) focuses on what exists, but the bid requirements are specific as to what needs to be. The Business Journal notes an economic and political worksheet is offered in the proposal requirements.

Among the top four attributes, Amazon lists “Labor Force – The Project includes significant employment requirements at the threshold compensation levels described herein and with corresponding educational attainment of the available workforce. The Project must be sufficiently close to a significant population center, such that it can fill the 50,000 estimated jobs that will be required over multiple years.”

Grand Rapids and Michigan’s scores are woefully at the bottom of comparisons with all states. Business Leaders for Michigan in early spring 2017 noted in its study:

  • Per capita income edged up only slightly, ranking Michigan as No. 31 among all states. Per capita GDP is 35th.
  • The number of critical degrees and certificates declined, giving Michigan a rank of 28th.
  • Fourth-grade reading proficiency continues to decline, now ranking Michigan at 46th.
  • Overall educational attainment measured Michigan at 29th. The Grand Rapids region continues to lag other regions of the state in the percentage of residents with an associate degree or higher, falling behind the Lansing region, Ann Arbor region and Detroit. In fact, the West Michigan region ties with every region from Berrien County to northern Michigan: the entire western part of the state.

Talent 2025 has been meeting, discussing and issuing reports about the “future” needs of West Michigan employers for almost a dozen years. In fact, a blog at the agency’s website and its September report noted, “… a lack of the right education and skills were cited as the top barriers employers cited to successfully attract and retain talent. We’ve confirmed this several times now.” It further notes “a low labor force participation rate paired with the lowest regional unemployment rate in years” now exacerbates the issue.

Collaboration necessary to build on those requirements may be a challenge in itself. It may be important for those aspects to be new fundamentals for economic development, fundamentals for a legislative action plan — certainly even the new fundamentals for a “Grand Action 2.0.” Amazon’s “to-do list” should not be ignored.

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