Culture matters NOW for economic developers – just ask Amazon

Global readiness to decide biggest site selection deal of the decade

Ever since Amazon announced that the company is looking to build a second headquarter (HQ2) in North America the race is on among site selection professionals and communities in the United States and Canada. Aside from hard economic and infrastructural factors, cities will now experience that cultural readiness isn’t only business jargon. It will likely decide who benefits from one of the most significant corporate decisions in recent memory. 

The big announcement by the world’s largest online retailer caused quite a stir among municipal officials and economic development professionals throughout North America. Very few corporate projects have the potential to affect an entire metro area. Amazon’s city search comes with the promise of an enormous economic boon. The company anticipates to create up to 50,000 new full-time jobs with an average annual pay of more than $100,000. Overall capital expenditure will likely exceed $5 billion. Clearly, this is a contest any city would like to win.

Which city will pass Amazon’s suitability test?

Cities meeting Amazon's wishesThe contest for HQ2 will be highly competitive, and analysts have begun zeroing in on the contenders best positioned for this race (here and here). The selection criteria defined by the company in its request for proposal illustrate that what is often referred to as the city of the future will emerge now. No matter which community lands this deal, it will be a metro region which has more to offer than tax incentives, traffic and transport infrastructure, or public subsidies.

Amazon lists several non-negotiable attributes which go beyond the scope of what site selections in the past have requested. And many of these criteria for playing in the top league of the digital economy revolve around human capital and “soft skill” factors. On the company’s wish list are key words like sustainability, labor force preparedness and development, community quality of life, and – perhaps most importantly: Cultural Community Fit. Here’s how Amazon defines this factor:

“The Project requires a compatible cultural and community environment for its long-term success. This includes the presence and support of a diverse population, excellent institutions of higher education, local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company, among other attributes. A stable and consistent business climate is important to Amazon. Please demonstrate characteristics of this in your response.”

Encouraging inclusive and diverse work places and communities is relevant to Amazon and the company wants its future HQ2 home to promote this mindset as well. We have written about the relevance of cultural readiness (or cultural agility) as a key factor for economic development extensively, on this blog and on other news outlets (here and here or here).
Subscribers to our newsletter will remember our infographic on the topic of global business readiness. You’ll see it again posted below, as Amazon’s major project reminds us of its relevance.

No doubt, monetary incentives and infrastructural commitments by the bidding metros will matter immensely in this HQ2 competition. Make no mistake, though, communities which can’t demonstrate culture readiness, global engagement, diversity, and environmental stewardship will struggle to attract modern, future-oriented industries.


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