Amazon set the economic development world on fire in September when it announced its intent to build a second headquarters in North America. Cities hoping to win Amazon’s bid, including Atlanta, recently sent their proposals to the company. Promising as many as 50,000 six-figure jobs and as much as $5 billion in investment, applicants are coming up with a lot of creative ideas to attract Amazon’s attention.
Tucson, Arizona, for example, sent Amazon a 21-foot-tall cactus, reportedly to let Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos know that “We have room for you to grow here.” Birmingham, Alabama, is placing giant Amazon delivery boxes around the city encouraging residents to post a photo of themselves with the boxes using the hashtag #bringAtoB. Georgia isn’t above the fray with the innovative PR stunts. Metro Atlanta’s own city of Stonecrest has offered to carve out 345 acres of its boundaries to create the City of Amazon if the retailer picks Georgia.
Amazon’s relocation is a serious business decision and publicity stunts and PR campaigns are not going to sway the company’s decision — political and economic realities will. As the number-one state for business and with a willingness to create lucrative economic incentive packages, experts expect Atlanta’s application to be competitive for Amazon’s new headquarters, but there is a key metric where we fall short.
Buried inside the request for proposal released by Amazon is a site selection requirement that “The Project requires a compatible cultural and community environment for its long-term success. This includes the presence and support of a diverse population … .” For technology companies like Amazon, this means being supportive of immigration and welcoming to their diverse workforce.
Over the past several legislative sessions, Georgia hasn’t proven itself to meet this “compatible cultural and community environment.” Fights over issues like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, bilingual ballots, non-citizen driver’s licenses and the prospect of a battle over Confederate monuments undermine the positive economic development attributes Georgia has to offer.
Some may dismiss this as hyperbole, but in the competition for billions in economic investment the concern is real and it is acute. Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver are actively advertising Canada’s progressive immigration system and inclusive environment in their pitches to Amazon. A spokeswoman for Toronto’s bid recently told CNN, “Our open immigration policies make it easier for companies to gain access to global talent, and our inclusive and tolerant society makes Canada and the Toronto region a top choice for international students.”
Atlanta still has a lot going for it and it should still be considered a potential finalist for Amazon’s investment; but, we need to be proactive. Toronto can’t shorten its brutal winters to improve quality of life, but Georgia can be a more compatible, cultural and community fit by welcoming diverse populations, particularly immigrants.
Georgia also has outsized influence on the immigration debate before Congress. Three members of the Georgia Congressional delegation, Representatives Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Karen Handel, R-Roswell; and Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, sit on the powerful House Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over immigration reform. Georgia is one of the states best positioned to lead the effort for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.
Georgia’s House Judiciary Committee members can make an immediate impression on Amazon by brokering a compromise on the DREAM Act. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has signed two letters to Congress supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and has met directly with President Trump to discuss immigration reform proposals. What Bezos and other tech company’s CEOs know is that, if Congress does not act to protect DACA recipients by March 5, 2018, some 24,200 Georgians and 800,000 people nationwide will begin losing their deportation protections and will be forced out of the American workforce.
Courting Amazon by leading the charge on DACA has very little political downside. Some 86 percent of all Americans and 80 percent of all Republicans support giving Dreamers the chance to stay in the United States permanently. The ancillary benefit of improving Georgia’s competitiveness for large economic investment makes it even more compelling.
Early next year, Amazon will make a decision on where to invest $5 billion. When that decision comes down, we don’t want to second-guess whether we could have done more to win. Georgia’s elected leaders need to address all aspects of Amazon’s RFP, not just the site selection and economic ones. Showcasing a little Southern hospitality by welcoming all people to Georgia could be the difference-maker.