LANSING – The Midwest was well represented in the list of 20 finalist cities and regions for the second Amazon headquarters, but Detroit was not one of the Midwest cities chosen, and the primary reason was an issue Governor Rick Snyder has talked about all through his administration: talent resources.
In a conference call, executives from the Seattle-based online retail giant told city officials and business leaders that an insufficient talent pool in the Detroit area was the primary reason it did not make the list of finalists. There were other factors, such as the Detroit area’s continuing problems with developing mass transit, but talent was the primary factor hurting Detroit’s chance at the list.
In preparing its presentation for the headquarters proposal, Detroit officials had agreed to a partnership with Windsor, Ontario, on key elements of the plan. State officials said that Windsor would play a big role in providing the talent pool Amazon said it would need.
The talent issue did not just deal with the number of people presently in the region who could fill the jobs in the company, but an ongoing supply over the years. That speaks to the question of the city’s and state’s K-12 schools as well as the effort of keeping more Michigan university graduates in the state.
Not specifically related to the Amazon bid, but state officials have said for some time there are nearly 100,000 technical-based jobs open in the state now for which there are not workers. Many of these jobs do not require university degrees, but they all require some degree of advanced training.
Throughout his administration, Snyder has made developing and keeping talent in Michigan a key focus. While he has put a big effort on developing apprenticeships and other technical training for industrial and high-tech service jobs, his administration has also made a major push for college graduates to stay in Michigan or return to Michigan.
Mass transit remains a difficult issue for the metro Detroit region. Voters turned down a tax proposal in 2016 that would have paid for a more coordinated transit system for the region. Trying to find a way to get local communities together on a better regional transit system has hounded the region and state for more than 40 years.
In his statement on Amazon’s decision, Snyder said it was disappointing Detroit did not make the list, but, “We are a top 10 state and we will continue driving to be the best in the nation.
“There is no limit to what Michiganders can do, and this proposal demonstrated exactly how we can marshal our resources and collaborate. Throughout the process of putting together this bid, we learned our greatest strengths and identified areas where we can improve. Now we are even more ready for the next big prospect. Michigan’s spirit is unstoppable, and so is our comeback. This won’t set us back, we’re accelerating to the next opportunity. We know it’s out there,” Snyder said.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the city’s bid “showed a clear vision for the future of our city and brought out the very best of our city and our region.”
Duggan also said officials learned much from the effort. “We’re going to keep building on the progress we’ve made and keep pursuing major developments,” he said. “I expect that the lessons we learned in the Amazon process will help make us more successful on a number of other major potential investments that we are currently pursuing.”
However, the liberal action group Progress Michigan said Detroit’s failure to be named as a finalist is “proof that the Republican policies of the last eight years have been a complete failure.”
The areas that won a spot on the list, the group said, were those that invested in infrastructure and other services, instead of trying to lure companies with tax breaks.
Former state school superintendent Tom Watkins said on Facebook that Michigan will need a “comprehensive education and workforce development plan that is driven by data, best practices and not ideology and politics if we are to be competitive as the 21st Century unfolds.”
The Seattle-based online retail giant set off what was arguably the biggest state and local government free-for-all to attract a corporate facility since states vied for the location of General Motors’ Saturn production facility in the 1980s – GM has since dropped Saturn as a brand – last year when it announced it would choose a locale for a second headquarters site that could employ as many as many as 50,000 people.
Some 238 cities and regions from the U.S., Canada and Mexico made a pitch for the new headquarters.
Business journalists who have covered the issue intensively have said they considered sure locks for the list of finalists included Dallas; Denver; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C. Those four cities did show up on the finalist list (and New York Times journalists have forecast that Denver would be the ultimate winner).
The other cities and regions on the finalists list are Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County; Maryland; Nashville; New York City; Northern Virginia; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Toronto, Ontario.
That Detroit was not on the list came as a surprise to many. Phoenix and San Diego were also not on the list, which also came as a surprise.
This story was published by Gongwer News Service