When Amazon exited its plan to build a second headquarters in Queens, New York, Northwest Florida officials saw an opportunity: Grab the retailing behemoth and never let go.
Early reaction from Northwest Floridians, however, indicates those same Northwest Florida officials would need to convince a skeptical public before making concrete any plans to try to land Amazon, which really is more than just an internet retailer and Walmart competitor.
That point is key in finding the right pitch for successfully scoring what would be a transformative business for North Florida.
Amazon already has distribution hubs in the Southeast (including Florida), among other places. The Panhandle offers convenient access to all three coasts (East, West and Gulf) via Interstate 10 and a network of four-lane roads (such as U.S. highways 231 and 331) that were built mainly as evacuation routes but could double as the base for an expanded transportation network that would be required to manage the positive chaos an Amazon headquarters would bring.
But then again, Northwest Florida is at a point where it must decide its long-term future, and being a home to healthy companies is one way to do it.
We will not, however, recommend taking the path of corporate welfare — for many reasons, but mainly because we don’t think it should be or would be required to land an Amazon if it or a similar multinational set their sights on locating here.
Case in point: Workforce training likely would be a part of any successful pitch, and Northwest Florida offers a myriad of facilities that could be reformatted to fit with the needs of large corporations such as Amazon (or, in previous pursuits, an aerospace company, which we still feel would fit in well with nearby industries). This area has been burned in the past, so it is imperative any project that wants to consider utilizing public-private funding be contractually held to fulfilling their economical promises; we simply do not have the tax base to support corporate welfare, and it is bad policy anyway.
However, the most effective business leaders don’t pursue a big catch unless they have reason to believe it’s landable. Amazon is in the process of figuring out and implementing its second life — one that is not defined as a niche online retailer but instead a tech company with arms of entertainment (Prime Video and Prime Music), tech (Amazon Web Services), publishing (KDP and Kindle Direct) and research, among other pursuits.
Twenty years after AOL introduced the United States to the World Wide Web, paving the way for an upstart retailer to upend the retail industry forever, Amazon needs another home, and we think with the right mix of incentives and coaxing, we could find Amazon is a willing partner in redeveloping Northwest Florida. They could be a good fit for us, and we could be a good fit for them.