Awkward showboating for Jeff
If there’s one thing in tech that has made me wince in recent months, it’s the desperate race North American cities have entered to become home to Amazon’s second HQ.
As the race began, we saw cities in the USA and Canada promise all flavours of moon-on-a-stick to Jeff Bezos, if he set up a presence in their cites. And the stunts were varying degrees of silly
. NYC lit landmarks in Amazon orange; Tuscon, Arizona, sent a 21-foot cactus to the company’s Seattle HQ (it was rejected); one town even offered to rename itself ‘Amazon.’
The Wall Street Journal reminded me of this desperate race yesterday, with its (paywalled) update
on how things are going for the 20 finalist cities, as Amazon makes low-key visits to scope them out.
It’s understandable that cities want Amazon. Its 'HQ2’ would bring lots of jobs, and the caché of a giant, successful, business with a big future. But I wonder what Jeff Bezos made of all the stunts. I felt they were more for cities’ own citizens than for Amazon’s benefit.
Inward investment is generally based around low-key negotiations, focused on things like financial incentives, support to help relocating staff settle in, etc. It generally doesn’t involve city mayors posting 'unboxing’ videos about why they love Amazon so much.
Yes, the stunts were largely theatre for local residents. Elected officials signaling to voters: 'we’re doing something for you! We’re trying!’
With 50,000 jobs, plus $5 billion in construction investment, on offer from Amazon, cities are bound to be keen. But when they lose a big chunk of dignity, and only just stop short of officially renaming the mayor 'Alexa 'IloveJeffBezos McAmazon,’ it’s just one more sign that big tech companies have an uncomfortable amount of power in the world right now.