This month’s column is an open letter to Amazon to establish its second headquarters (HQ2) here in Robeson County. In my judgment, Amazon made an enormous mistake and demonstrated a lack of vision in crafting the criteria they did for their HQ2, particularly requiring that applicants must be a major metropolitan city of at least 1 million people — or near one.
My grandfathers, father, and uncles all spent their careers with IBM, so I know a bit about the company and its history. Today we think of Research Triangle Park (RTP); Boca Raton, Fla.; Boulder, Colo. ; Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif., and other locations as high-tech, sought-after communities. Prior to the arrival of IBM, though, they were all tiny communities, not particularly noteworthy in any way.
But, IBM had vision, and they knew that the presence of a new IBM facility alone (each with far fewer than the 50,000 employees Amazon projects) could transform relatively unknown locations into famous ones. Some of you are old enough to remember when RTP was completely undeveloped. I grew up in Boca Raton, which was also undeveloped. Florida Atlantic University, the college in the area, today is a major university with a national football program. Before IBM came to town, it had far fewer students than UNC Pembroke has today.
Robeson County also has more to offer Amazon today than RTP or Boca Raton had pre-IBM. Relatively speaking, how does it help Boston, for example, (or Amazon) for 50,000 new jobs to be moved and created there? Housing is already limited and expensive in most of the cities on Amazon’s finalist list. The infrastructure groans under the populations currently living there.
If Amazon had vision, it would establish the HQ2 in Robeson County or a community like it. We have abundant space, an airport, proximity to Interstate 95, a nearby port, a university and all of the other amenities that the Robeson County Office of Economic Development promotes to recruit employers. Moreover, in the past decade North Carolina, has become the No. 1 location for business on many ranking lists.
Amazon’s presence would transform Southeastern North Carolina, as people out of work would quickly be recruited into construction and all of the other industries to support it — everything from food service to historic preservation. Empty factories would spring back to life with renewed purposes. Amazon employees would have a true alternative to Seattle, the option of living in a warm climate with sunny blue skies and southern hospitality. The quality of life for their employees (and everyone else in the region) could become better than Boca Raton or Boulder.
All it takes is a little imagination, Amazon.
Eric Dent, a former professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, now teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University.