OK, but how can Amazon win Philly? - Generocity Philly

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Sep. 25, 2017 9:20 am

OK, but how can Amazon win Philly?

The corporation would be lucky to land its HQ2 in Philly, argues columnist Tivoni Devor. Here's what needs to happen for the tech giant to be welcomed with open arms.

Philly, with its score of millennials, would make a prime (sorry) location for HQ2. But what can the tech behemoth do for us?

(Photo courtesy of J. Fusco/Visit Philadelphia)

Tivoni Devor’s “Getting Good Done” column focuses on new models of enacting impact.


Amazon just threw Philly and another dozen or so cities into a crab barrel, each city fighting each other for a chance to win HQ2 — along with the investment, jobs and prestige it brings with it.

But the truth is that Amazon would be lucky to get Philly, not the other way around. The top talent that Amazon wants to attract to its new HQ could work anywhere in the world, and they should want to work in Philly — a city that gets consistent top marks with millennials.

If Amazon wants the best talent, they have to be where the talent is, and Philly, with its many colleges and universities is cranking out tons of talent every semester. Philly will only continue to be more competitive with this “natural resource” of young talent, as put by Deborah Diamond, president of Campus Philly, an organization solely devoted to young talent. (Full disclosure: My wife works there.)

It’s a given that Philly is where Amazon wants to be to attract the talent it wants …

So, what’s Amazon gonna do for us?

We’ve seen Steve Jobs have to pitch his HQ to the Cupertino City Council, but that was a snoozefest compared to Philly’s zoning and RCO system. Amazon might have disrupted retail on a global level, but founder Jeff Bezos is not prepared for the crowded community meetings he’s gonna need to show up to, and he’s gonna need a lot of variances, which means he’s gonna need community approval.

Amazon has done some good, albeit self-serving things, like lowering the prices at Whole Foods, reducing the cost of Amazon Prime memberships and accepting SNAP benefits from those who have them, but really it’s an attempt to gain market share. What if Amazon partnered with Comcast and its Internet Essentials program to cover the monthly cost of internet access by bundling it with Amazon Prime?

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Getting ahead of ourselves here. If we’re gonna let Amazon come to Philly, it’s gonna have to get a few more things right:

1. Minority and local participation

Amazon is committing $5 billion to create HQ2, so it’ll need to match Philly Rebuild’s commitment to economic opportunity by committing to having 45 percent of workers on HQ2 sites be minorities and minority-owned businesses, and 50 percent Philadelphia residents, along with funding a pre-apprenticeship program to employ people from low-income neighborhoods to make sure they can develop a pipeline to meet these requirements.

That will ensure that at least $2.5 billion will be injected directly into the Philadelphia economy, building wealth where it’s needed. Plus, if we consider the local multiplier effect, more of this money will get used and reused in the local economy, thus creating more jobs and more wealth.

2. Deal with housing and displacement

Every hot take about HQ2 showing up on Philly’s stoop is around housing. Healthy Rowhouse Project has a goal to help repair 5,000 Philly homes a year for the sake of preserving affordable housing in the country’s oldest city. Amazon should fund that org at a level that it will be able to triple that goal.

With Amazon being Amazon, there’s no shortage of ways it can help maintain and grow Philly’s affordable housing stock, including by offering discounts for supplies to using the rowhomes as training grounds for the aforementioned apprenticeship program to reducing the costs of labor.

Amazon should also make significant donations to orgs like the Tenant’s Union, Philly VIP, Community Legal ServicesUrban Affairs Coalition’s Community & Economic Development program (another full disclosure: I work at UAC) and others to fight foreclosure, greedy landlords and other pressures in the housing market.

3. Pay fair wages

Not every job Amazon creates in Philly will be a fancy, high-paying tech job. There will be many maintenance, food service and other jobs at HQ2 that would traditionally pay minimum wage.

Amazon must commit to paying living wages for its staff and subcontractors starting at $15 per hour; entrepreneur Todd Carmichael of the Philly-based La Colombe’s made the case for this practice just last week. Amazon should also realize this is the wrong town to be anti-union, so it should be ready to accept union workers at all levels of employment.

A win-win

There’s no point winning Amazon if the deal is terrible. The first crab out of the barrel wins first place in the pot. For this to work in Philly, Amazon is going to have make this a real win for Philly. Not just Millennial Philly, or Political Philly, but all of Philly — even those without a Prime account.

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