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Droppin’ The Mic

The city’s Amazon pitch paints a thrilling picture of a vibrant, innovative city. Now it’s time to get the political class in the city and state to sign on

The city’s Amazon pitch paints a thrilling picture of a vibrant, innovative city. Now it’s time to get the political class in the city and state to sign on

At the Barnes Foundation yesterday morning, Mayor Jim Kenney and Drexel President John Fry, Chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, hosted a pep rally for local patriots. Crammed into the museum’s lower auditorium was a who’s who of Philadelphia’s influential class, there to mark the submission of our city’s bid to win the sweepstakes for Amazon’s second headquarters, or HQ2.

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There was a celebratory feel in the air, as well there should have been. I’d raised some red flags about the city’s pitch earlier this month, basically calling for more creativity and heart, and less numbers-crunching in our approach. 

Well, the combination of the below video, produced by an all-local team, and the speech yesterday morning of Brigitte Daniel, Executive Vice President of Wilco Electronic Systems, did the trick.

Daniel excitedly wrapped the pitch to Amazon in her own personal Philadelphia story—prompting Fry to joke that all we need to do is get her in front of Jeff Bezos—and the video, with cameos from those on the street as well as those in the elite, captured something essentially Philly, particularly in the very real commentary offered by La Colombe’s Todd Carmichael.

Watching the video and listening to Daniel couldn’t help but make one think: I’d totally live in that city…and I already live in that city.

 

Countless prognosticators are highly rating Philly’s chances of winning the bid, including Moody’s Analytics, which puts Philly in the top three contenders, and first overall if you count our geographic advantages. The handicappers, as well as those in charge of the city’s bid, hit all the right practical notes in terms of making the case. Our cost of living, transportation infrastructure, proximity to New York and D.C., and quality of life amenities all make Philly a real possibility.

Ah, but, at the risk of playing Debbie Downer, there is an elephant and a donkey in this here room. What just might hold Philly back—as has so long been the case—is our dysfunctional city and state politics. One member of the team trying to lure Amazon here said it best yesterday: “I’m afraid the fact that we don’t have a state budget is going to screw us over.”

In effect, a lot of what we are selling to Amazon is that which our political class couldn’t screw up: Our location, our cost of living, our restaurant scene, our influx of millennials. But let’s look at this from Jeff Bezos’ point of view: You want to entice me with $1 billion in tax incentives when your own state house can’t even agree on a budget? When you have $70 billion in state and $6 billion in city pension unfunded liabilities, thereby continuing to shortchange critical education and infrastructure investments? This is the government you’re asking me to trust?

Watching the video and listening to Daniel couldn’t help but make one think: I’d totally live in that city…and I already live in that city.

In fact, the Amazon Request for Proposal specified that regions coordinate to submit one pitch per metro area; well, we’re submitting three, given that Camden and Delaware County are each also taking a flyer. Let’s mind meld with Bezos again: They couldn’t all work together on one pitch? What kind of visionary leadership is that?

The pitch I heard at the Barnes yesterday was a bold vision for a new Philadelphia—but making it real will require the hard work of pushing old Philadelphia into the recesses of history. Last month, in a move not coordinated with those in charge of shaping the Amazon proposal, John Dougherty, who leads the Building and Construction Trades Council and the Electricians Union, sent an open letter to Jeff Bezos. The letter was fine, expressing local union interest in working with Amazon, and only once devolved into finger-pointing with a reference to a “propaganda campaign waged by non-union contractors.”

But let’s imagine Jeff Bezos typing the words John and Dougherty into his browser. Oh, this guy is under federal investigation.Oh, there may be video of him allegedly roughing up one of those non-union propagandists. Oh, his union isn’t historically diverse. Oh, a lot of his members don’t even live within city limits. Can you blame Bezos if he thinks to himself: Do I really want to move there and do business with this guy? Of course, Dougherty did send Bezos Eagles, Flyers, Sixers and Phillies jerseys. So there is that.

Yesterday, referring to the process of collaboration behind the crafting of the Amazon pitch, John Fry suggested that, however the Amazon reality show turns out, the city had discovered a new template for recruiting companies. Commerce Director Harold Epps told me, “This is a galvanizing moment for us,” and I’m on board.

But if we just galvanize around a new spirit of kumbaya, the Amazon experience will be for naught. How about we take this opportunity to get real about demanding more of our politics?

If we just galvanize around a new spirit of kumbaya, the Amazon experience will be for naught. How about we take this opportunity to get real about demanding more of our politics?

Hell, you could inculcate that into the pitch. Come here, Amazon, and spark us to clean up our act. No more state budget games of chicken. No more insider deals like Councilmanic Prerogative. No more party endorsements of indicted politicians. No more election officials who don’t even bother to vote.

Jeff Bezos suffers from the same malady as so many Masters of the Universe: Challenge Deficit Disorder. What if we challenge him to think beyond the bottom line? To make his decision based on a sense of corporate citizenship, that, in turn, can elevate the notion of conscious capitalism into a pop culture movement? What if we say to him, Come here, Amazon, and help restore Democracy to the American city where it was born. Now that’s a challenge that might be too tall an order to pass up.

Header Photo: Pixabay

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