The proposal is in. Let's talk about a possible Amazon HQ2 in Philly - Technical.ly Philly

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Oct. 20, 2017 12:58 pm

The proposal is in. Let’s talk about a possible Amazon HQ2 in Philly

At the unveiling of Philly's proposal, Mayor Kenney said Philly would win. Win or lose, here's how some leaders of the Philly tech community feel about the prospect of HQ2.

The intro to the pitch video.

(Video by Skai Blue Media)

The pitch is done, the proposal has been sent.

Philly’s officially in the running to become the site of Amazon’s proposed second headquarters, a 50,000-employee campus that will have a profound, transformative impact in any city it chooses. By not a small number of informed guesses, Philly’s a real contender. It meets many of the baseline requirements in CEO Jeff Bezos’ shopping list: a population bigger than a million and access to an international airport, among a bunch of millennial-friendly quality-of-life pluses.

A handful of local tech execs have been lending their voices in support of Philly as an HQ2 site.

“Philly has an X factor that very few cities can claim: we’ve got momentum,” Curalate CEO Apu Gupta said in the three-minute video put together to summarize the city’s proposal.

“You’re finding students that are willing to challenge conventional thinking,” First Round Capital founder Josh Kopelman states before the camera.

Seer Interactive CEO Wil Reynolds and Monetate CEO Lucinda Duncalfe also back the proposal.

We reached out to more community members for more nuanced thoughts around what some are calling a once-a-generation opportunity.

Code for Philly’s Dawn McDougall offers one caveat: city leaders should keep their eye on the balance between creating innovation corridors and solving urgent social and economic disparities.

“I think that this is an amazing opportunity for Philadelphia not only because of the economic implications, but also the impact we can have on technology as a whole,” McDougall cedes. “Amazon is a leader in technology who has transformed the space. Having Philadelphia as a pool of perspective to help shape the continuing future is an important responsibility that our community is undoubtedly prepared to meet.”

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Behind Guru founder Rick Nucci’s bullish stance on Amazon coming to Philly is the potential to grow that talent pool even further.

“A company of Amazon’s size will hire students from our local universities, lessening the odds of them leaving after they graduate,” said Nucci, who got West Coast–based Slack to invest in his company. “They will hire from the local community, and they will hire in surrounding cities and relocate people to Philadelphia. They will train those hires in various disciplines, which increases the depth of knowledge in different fields for working professionals who may naturally go on to other organizations in the area. I view this all as a net positive for Philadelphia.”

Indian-born entrepreneur Vidur Bhatnagar, founder and CEO of Keriton, is excited about the possibility of a “mammoth tech player” being in town.

“The downside, with any such movement, is the immediate pressure it puts on existing infrastructure of the city: transportation, housing, etc,” the founder said. “And then the impending dangers of gentrification.”

IOPipe’s Erica Windisch, the cofounder of a company with presence in Philadelphia and Seattle, said she has long questioned why Philly hasn’t had more interest from developers.

“We offer a compelling solution to the problems Amazon is seeking to overcome,” said Windisch. “Lower Bucks [County] in particular offers large amounts of undeveloped land wedged between I-95, 276, and Route-1, with Amtrak offering a 1 hour commute to New York City from Trenton, and 45 minute commutes to two major international airports (Newark and Philadelphia) offering direct flights to Seattle and San Francisco.”

Logistics and transportation was one of the key areas in Philly’s bid.

Jake Stein, CEO of Stitch, fired back with both a specific qualm and an A+ cinema reference:

“It would be great if Amazon comes to Philly, but I’m skeptical that the costs of the tax incentives and other special treatment will outweigh the benefits,” said Stein. “From both an equity and ROI perspective, I’d prefer investments in things that apply to a wider range of Philadelphians and this kind of proposal for Amazon.”

For James Regan, cofounder and CMO of Philly-based MRP, there’s concern of the cost the negotiation might run our city.

Philly.com reports the incentives package offered to the Seattle corporation tops $1 billion.

“It’s possible that losing it might be the best thing for us,” Regan told Technical.ly in an email. “The RFP response is the blueprint for the future of the city. If we do lose Amazon to another city, the RFP should be made public and public resources should align around implementing the big ideas that we were trying to sell to Amazon. Losing gives us the chance to pave a future for our city — and do it on our terms.”

TJ Nicolaides of design firm Think Company, stumped for Philly’s scrappy, growing tech community.

“If we lose the bid, I hope it’s not something we dwell on for long, as though there was something inadequate or missing without Amazon here,” Nicolaides said. “We talk all the time about how awesome the Philly tech community is, and what amazing work is getting done — groundbreaking medical research, neighborhood cleanups, STEM education for kids — the list goes on. This is an amazing group that sets itself apart by using technology to lift each other up, not hunt for the most disruptive way to solve life’s minor annoyances. That was true before we knew HQ2 was a possibility, it’s true today, and it will still be true long after Amazon has unpacked their boxes somewhere else.”

HQ2 win or not, it would take a true cynic to not find at least some inspiration in the pitch videos compiled by the city. If the answer comes back a yes, it’s a whole new ball game for Philly tech. But if it’s a no, IOPipe’s Windisch offers one playbook we might follow:

“If we lose the bid, we should continue growing our own culture and building a city that provides unique advantages over the bigger hubs like Seattle and San Francisco.”

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Roberto Torres

Roberto Torres became Technical.ly Lead Philly Reporter in May 2016. Prior, he was a freelance contributor to Technical.ly and Al Dia News. The native Venezuelan moved to Philadelphia in 2015 after reporting on research at his alma mater, the University of Zulia. Whenever he's not fencing deadlines, he can be found standing in line at Overbrook Pizza in West Philly, running Netflix/Hulu marathons with his wife or reading news from Venezuela.

  • Jay R. Newlin

    I’m very disappointed that, while the “Livability” page touts Philly as a majority-minority city (something definitely worth celebrating), the video in the a-spot features mostly white people. Similarly, the people in the Talent video who are to be seen in STEM positions are all male. We should be much more careful about our words matching our (video) actions.

    • Justin Freese

      To be fair, there are about 24 people who speak in the video: 12 appear to be caucasian (8 men, 4 women) and 12 appear to be non-caucasian (9 men, 3 women). Though the majority of the non-caucasian people appear during the segment of the video touting diversity.

      • Jay R. Newlin

        You’re missing my point. The video on the Livability page does not show “majority minority” at all. The vast number of people in that video are white. It’s a miss.

        • Justin Freese

          I didn’t miss your point, I guess I just was unaware that there was some other video that you were referring to. At least the video embedded in the article above (which I’m sure lots of people have seen) has some of our diversity in it.

  • Shannon Sofield

    Pointless to debate this without disclosure of the financial incentives. Without a City Wage Tax abatement, this deal is a non-starter.

  • marcgravez

    I love what Erica says in the last paragraph, although I think that sentence would be even better without “If we lose the bid.” While Amazon will of course be an enormous resource, we can build on what has been accomplished with or without them. This included the work to improve the city that Dawn described so well. In fact, starting in just a few hours, that commitment continues with PowerUp Reentry.

  • Chris Beiter

    I’m with James Regan quoted in the article. Putting together the bid brought leaders together, regardless of whether it wins. Weaknesses have been identified in the business climate, now they have the opportunity to address them and create that better climate for homegrown companies or others looking to expand.

  • Bill Kaufmann

    Sorry Philly, #HQ2 won’t happen. #Amazon won’t go where employees have to pay 3% State income tax and 4% city wage tax. Seattle has neither.

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