*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on September14, 2017. It can also be found online here.
Amazon just announced it wants to add a second headquarters to its current Seattle home. The company is looking for a city with a population over one million, with a high quality of life, strong university system, and solid mass transportation options. Over the next two decades, the chosen city will receive roughly $5 billion in investment, 50,000 skilled tech workers, and a deep-pocketed business ally.
Here’s how Colorado Springs can get in on and win this sweepstakes.
(I know what you’re thinking. You’re right, there aren’t a million people in the Springs. We’ll come back to that in a moment.)
Let’s start with the numbers. The data analytics team at the New York Times applied Amazon’s announcement criteria. They started with 52 metro areas of requisite size, and after applying layer by layer of criteria, whittled the list down to one: Denver. In the final round, the Mile High City beat out Boston, Washington, and Portland, mostly on the strength of available room to grow office space (Amazon’s second headquarters’ is expected to be bigger than the Pentagon) and housing costs for employees. So Denver’s in the hunt.
But Denver is much bigger than its city limits, necessarily so, because on its own there are only 600,000 souls living within that city’s boundary line. It must reach out to the region and suburbs to get over the million resident mark.
And for economic purposes, Colorado Springs is intimately linked to Denver. This is part of what geostrategist Parag Khanna calls “connectography,” or, today’s connected geography. Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs form a bloc, the Front Range Corridor, which is an economic engine just as potent and important as any political arrangement in the state.
In the hunt for Amazon, Denver would be wise to include the Springs in its bid.
Denver’s mayor, Michael Hancock has called this opportunity a “megaprospect,” and megaprospects call for big, creative thinking.
Because even if an Amazon headquarters building is ultimately situated in Denver proper, the entire region will be impacted. Subsidiary and service companies will pop up, and not necessarily next door.
Fifty thousand employees will want to branch out. Many will be disappointed by Denver’s relatively higher cost of living, higher violent crime rate, poorer air and water quality, and distance from the mountains. A significant sum will look somewhere else: Colorado Springs. And some of these will eventually leave Amazon and move on to start up new companies. Turnover and spinoff growth will ensue. Paypal’s founders went on to build Tesla, SpaceX, and dozens of other companies. What might Amazon’s alumni build?
The smart play for Colorado Springs is to develop a strategy to support Denver’s mayor in building his bid. Seek to position the new site somewhere in south Denver, as close as possible to the Springs. Some highlights would include the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the state university system’s designated growth campus, featuring a nationally-recognized program on cyber security; the diverse linkages and business efficiencies to be found along the Front Range; a plan to engage with and develop mass transit options in harmony with the company’s anticipated needs; and, above all, the exceptional opportunity for workers to find a welcome new home next to America’s mountain.
Quality of life, in particular, should be a focus for Colorado Springs’ supporting bid. When the data team at the Times looked in on this category, they honed in on housing costs and amenities (i.e. including outdoor recreation, restaurants, and attractions). This is where the Springs has something unique to offer. Head to head with Denver on housing costs, according to the data aggregation site BestPlaces.net, Colorado Springs’ median home price is $231,100 compared to Denver’s $343,400, and the corresponding cost of living down south is much more modest. This fact alone is certain to draw cost conscious new Amazonians.
They’ll also find fantastic amenities, especially the outdoor variety. Colorado Springs has the advantage of nearness. You can practically spit from most houses here and hit a deer or a trail (or a deer on a trail). For some that will be well worth the additional 35 minutes of one-way commute.
The Gazette recently featured a behind-the-scenes look at the Chamber of Commerce’s effort to recruit a single software engineer for a local company. This sort of retail-level, one-on-one effort is to be commended, yet, it’s time for a broader strategy to lure one of America’s best companies to the foothills of America’s favorite mountain. Let’s bring Amazon to the Springs.