With Amazon building a second headquarters, another North American city is salivating to get what some call the greatest economic growth engine in history. Caution: Here it blew some people right out of the city.
Dear Other North American City:
Greetings, from Seattle By Amazon. We’re HQ1, the original company town.
But we are now old news. It’s you — one of America’s other midsized cities with recreational opportunities as ample as your corporate tax benefits — who will soon be crowned as HQ2, the second home of what some call the greatest economic growth engine in human history.
At least since the Klondike Gold Rush anyway.
Which is why we’re writing you. If there’s one thing we know in Seattle, it’s boom and bust. We’ve gone from billboards urging the last one leaving to turn out the lights to now, our first million-dollar neighborhood. Both the rush, and the relapse, of the fast buck are in our civic DNA.
So heads up, Other North American City: Amazon is about to detonate a prosperity bomb in your town.
It’s the perfect phrase, as it covers both the yin and the yang of what’s about to happen to you. The riches, the jobs, the thriving and striving. But also the aftershocks that can forever alter your community.
Let’s start with the good. Amazon’s stock symbol, AMZN, isn’t amazin’ for nothing. No company ever rained money on us like this one — nearly $40 billion into our city economy just since 2010.
For those of us lucky to be born early enough to buy a house back in Seattle BA (Before Amazon) this explosion has transformed us into assessed-value millionaires. You want this, too, we understand. Everybody does.
But make no mistake, the bomb part is real. As money has flung off of South Lake Union it has also buffeted some neighbors, workers and small businesses clear off the city map.
It’s no egalitarian device, this prosperity bomb. Rents have soared, and we’re now one of the more unequal, unaffordable cities in the nation. It not only hasn’t lifted all boats, it has sanitized the fleet by blowing the blue-tarp dinghies clear out to Auburn.
We have tried to confront this. We have 58 cranes building housing furiously, by far the most in the nation. It hasn’t dampened the bomb yet. It might even be further fueling it.
In your city, the blast radius will also inexorably consume a string of hundred-year-old diners, dive bars and legendary mom and pops that “just couldn’t keep up” with the boom. In its place come the new and sterile; our restaurant scene in the Amazon Jungle was recently compared to an airport food court.
Also, don’t be surprised if you suddenly find your city “broverwhelmed.” Amazon has such a male-dominated workforce we now have 130 single males for every 100 single females. For a time it was the brogammers, not the few women, who had to stand in lines to use the company bathrooms.
None of this is Amazon’s fault (well except the male thing, but they’re supposedly in counseling for that). They’re just doing business, and better than anyone. What we’re recounting here are some of the side effects of our being their company town.
Lastly, and most bizarrely, is the growth-addicted cult that worships this prosperity bomb. Try wondering out loud, say, whether the supercharged growth might be outstripping your city’s infrastructure. Or ripping apart your city’s middle-class fabric.
NIMBY, you’ll be called. You want to be Detroit?
Of course you weren’t Detroit BA (Before Amazon). You may even recall that you were a more easygoing city for all classes. But that’s the blinding power of the prosperity bomb. Once it goes off, nothing makes sense anymore, except it.
Sound far-fetched? Last week a member of our Chamber of Commerce, which is our safe-injection site for growth addicts, said the lesson from our Amazon relationship is that we all owe our corporate fathers an apology.
“It’s never too late to say we’re sorry,” Heather Redman, incoming chamber chairwoman, spanked us to the Seattle tech blog GeekWire.
Those 58 cranes? Should have been a hundred. Property taxes up 50 percent? Should also have been a hundred. We didn’t do enough, else they wouldn’t be looking elsewhere.
Never mind that this is plainly false, as Weyerhaeuser and Expedia and others are flocking in. Or that anyone can just look out the window to see we’ve already transmogrified the center city into a giant company plaza. To the growth addicts, the only answer, ever, is more.
So good luck, Other North American City. We’re not mad at ya (unless you turn out to be Oklahoma City). In fact, your gain wasn’t greeted by everyone in Seattle as our loss.
For the first time ever after one of these corporate announcements, there was heard, mixed in with the usual lamentations, a palpable sigh of relief.