This week’s Courier Herald column:
The battle for 2018’s Economic Development Super Bowl, an effort to land Amazon’s HQ2 and the potential 50,000 high wage 21st century jobs that will come with it, has become a bit of a Rorschach test for those watching the General Assembly. This despite there being no specific legislation to land the fast growing e-commerce and web hosting giant. Governor Deal removed that distraction publicly at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast, opting instead to call a special session if and when necessary.
Even still, armchair observers and social media activists alike have taken to grading legislative pieces based on a WWAT scale: What Would Amazon Think.
This exercise has been especially prevalent from left leaning circles, who have used Amazon’s lure as a very public excuse to kill any proposed bill that has a whiff of social conservatism. Most prevalent was the threat of Amazon on Senate language that was briefly attached to the adoption bill that was deemed discriminatory to LGBT families. Ultimately a “clean” bill was passed and signed by Governor Deal, with the other provisions revived in a currently stalled separate bill.
The WWAT exercise became one of cognitive dissonance when the NRA began its clash with Delta Air Lines. The folks on the left who believe any tax cut is akin to stealing from children (and generally oppose the kinds of tax credits being used to lure Amazon) suddenly found that not passing a broad jet fuel tax exemption was “blatantly unconstitutional” and that possible criminal acts occurred by not voting to repeal taxes. We can think Amazon for at least briefly convincing some of our friends on the left that tax cuts work and tax policy is one of the reasons Amazon and so many others look at Georgia as a top state to do business.
The fact of the matter is that when a company is making a decision that will affect their company and employees for a generation or more, the overall climate with respect to business operations and quality of life are going to weigh more than any single political skirmish. Amazon’s RFP indicates why the metro Atlanta region is a top contender.
We a top tier university system that produces an abundance of tech and managerial talent and a world class airport to connect a potential HQ2 to every corner of the world, non-stop. We have a solid transit backbone and are demonstrating the political will to make the network work for the entire region. And unspoken in the RFP but always important to the bottom line, we have a business tax climate and cost of living that is very competitive with the other cities and regions considered to be the top finalists.
No one outside Amazon knows what their final decision criteria will be. But those on the left who only consider social issues in their quality of life matrix may need to take a good luck at Atlanta’s City Hall for the weak link in Atlanta’s armor. Specifically, the chronic understaffing of Atlanta’s police department is likely the biggest threat to landing Amazon within the City of Atlanta, and possibly even the region.
Last week it was reported that Atlanta Police are no longer responding to shoplifting calls in Buckhead. APD Chief Erica Shields told Fox5 news that staffing shortages of up to 300 officers have had to limit responses north of downtown. Apparently it was too difficult to arrange transportation to jail for those caught and detained by merchants. This in the city’s major commercial district. This in the district that pays the most property taxes and contributes the most in sales taxes.
Amazon recently completed the purchase of Whole Foods. Whole Foods has a store located in the heart of Buckhead on West Paces Ferry Road, just a few blocks down from the Governor’s mansion. If customers can now go into this store and help themselves to prime meats and imported organic cheeses at 100% off their suggested retail price and know they will be unmolested by police in their shopping, that doesn’t speak well to the city as a place to do business.
Atlanta is a world class city. Georgia has a business climate that is among the best in the nation. Both of these require government at all levels to execute the basics. The City of Atlanta is resting on its laurels and playing an all too familiar game of balancing the books by understaffing its police department.
As the capital city that names and brands the region which is the key economic driver for the state, this is both unacceptable for the residents and a direct threat for the entire state. Amazon likely won’t think of this in a positive light. But like all the other issues of which Amazon is used as a carrot or stick, it’s not really about them. It’s about whether we as a city, region, and state are willing to find this acceptable. We should not.