So Denver made it to the final 20 in the Amazon search for a second headquarters! That’s a big deal since there were 238 applicants for HQ2, a project that may bring billions of investment dollars and 50,000 well-paid jobs to the lucky winner.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Think of the Mile High City as midway between the second round and the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA basketball tournament — and 347 colleges field Division 1 teams.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a seeded tournament. We don’t know what Amazon’s real priorities are, so it’s difficult to handicap the race. And even though we have a dog in the fight, there’s not much we can do to affect the outcome — or is there?
We’re part of Denver’s bid. Like Seattle, Denver has amazing backcountry recreation and nearby 14,000-foot peaks. Like Washington State, Colorado enjoys competent local government, honest politicians, great public and private colleges and universities, and youthful, educated and entrepreneurial residents.
Most of Denver’s 19 competitors will make similar claims (except for the Fourteeners!), but Denver has an edge. Like Colorado Springs, Boulder, Santa Fe and Fort Collins, Denver isn’t a place you come from — it’s a place where you move to to pursue your dreams.
Chicago, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Newark, Washington, D.C. (actually three locations, including Montgomery County, Md. and northern Virginia), Philadelphia. Would you want to live in any of them and deal with regional congestion, noise, unaffordable housing and broken-down infrastructure? Miami? It’ll be underwater by 2035. Indianapolis, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Definitely cool cities, but two little words should disqualify all three: Midwest winters!
That leaves Toronto, Nashville, Atlanta, Raleigh, Dallas and Austin. And given that Amazon included three D.C. areas in its list, we have to assume that one will make the cut to the final three. After all, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post and a house in D.C.
Toronto? Very cool, very cold and very Canadian. Dallas? Austin’s a better fit. Nashville? Too southern. Atlanta? It was the coolest city in America in 1998.
The final three: Denver, Austin and northern Virginia.
But that’s completely conjectural. This is a game that isn’t a game and we don’t know the rules. Has Bezos already made his choice, and is he just using the process to get the sweetest possible deal? Does he want an East Coast location, Seattle-style civic culture, an all-weather airport or cooperative politicians? Does he want to please the president (Dallas) or infuriate him (Toronto)?
We don’t know. But like any reluctant suitor, he’s looking for love. I’d argue that the benefits to Colorado Springs of having Amazon in Denver far outweigh the detriments, so here are some suggestions for helping the bid along.
First, our El Paso County legislative delegation has to awaken from its comfortable partisan torpor and agree to fund our $9 billion transportation infrastructure backlog. That would convince Amazon that we’re serious about congestion mitigation, in Denver and statewide.
Second, we need to link Colorado Springs and Denver with fast, frequent passenger rail. That will enable Amazonians to live here and have a comfortable commute to work — and give all of us who want to visit or work in Denver the same opportunity.
Third, we need to abandon our 19th-century approach to electric generation. The highest and best use of rail lines along the Front Range is no longer the transportation of coal, but the swift movement of people and goods such as wind turbine blades.
And finally, we need to advocate for Denver and for Colorado. Jeff Bezos needs to know that Denver isn’t an island between mountain and plain, but part of a complex and mutually beneficial network of cities, small towns, suburbs and rural communities statewide. We need to champion our diverse and amiable state, a place that has given so many of us opportunities to excel and room to fail and try again.
As Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote in Hamilton: “Hey yo, I’m just like my country/I’m young, scrappy and hungry/And I’m not throwing away my shot!”