Features | November 20, 2018

After Amazon, jilted cities mobilize for inclusive growth

Dennis Price
ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

Now that Amazon’s beauty pageant is finally over, runners-up like Birmingham, Kansas City, Baltimore and 200 other cities can move ahead on their own.

“Take half the energy and half the capital you are willing to devote to Amazon and put it towards your startup sector—that will bear far greater fruit over the next 10 to 20 years,” says Steve Case, the AOL cofounder turned Rise of the Rest venture capitalist.

“Thank God,” Beacon Economics’ Christopher Thornberg told the Los Angeles Times when L.A. was passed over for Amazon’s new headquarters. Economic development, he said is “best done by helping existing businesses grow, and by building more housing and infrastructure.” One point of discussion: the whopping incentives (some $5.5 billion) committed to attract the e-commerce giant.

Some alternative ideas:

  • Build your own Amazons. More than three-quarters of venture capital funding goes to California, New York and Massachusetts. Steve Case’s Revolution and Forbes identified 10 rising cities for startups across a range of entrepreneurship, education and cost of living metrics. The top three: Columbus, St. Louis and Atlanta.
  • Repurpose plans. “Every city that competed for Amazon HQ2 should quickly determine how their pitch can convert to a purposeful strategy for Opportunity Zones,” suggests Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz. Katz’s 10-point plan includes creating investment perspectives to showcase investable projects and supporting local entrepreneurs and developers to access capital and technical assistance.
  • Place-based investing. Long before Amazon promised a corporate windfall to the lucky winner, local leaders were nurturing entrepreneurial ecosystems in cities and towns across the U.S. In Louisville, Access Ventures is helping small-business entrepreneurs get the right type of capital at the right time. In Nashville, Launch Tennessee is helping entrepreneurs connect to investors, mentors and larger businesses. Meet all of ImpactAlpha’s New Revivalists.
  • Experiment with policy. “There’s no conventional wisdom on how to address these issues,” writes Neil Irwin in The New York Times. Among the key ingredients: investments in digital skills and connectivity, access to business capital, university upgrades, wage subsidies and immigration policy overhaul.