2018 in review: The upside to losing Amazon

As the year wraps up, we spoke to tech leaders and got a look back at the frenzy over HQ2, and the lessons it left for Philadelphia. Plus: What's an Amazon sandwich?

Amazon's HQ in Seattle. (Courtesy photo)

Last week, at’s quarterly stakeholder meeting, we gathered two dozen tech leaders in a room to look back at the year that just whizzed by, and to take stock of the things we won and lost.

So, of course we had to talk about Amazon.

From a newfound sense of unity to a talent magnet to the northeast and Philly’s strong stance on a list of world-class cities, the founders and organizers agreed there was a sizable upside to getting Philly on the list of finalists for Amazon’s second headquarters project, which ultimately was split between New York and Virginia.

Will Luttrell, the First-Round-Capital-backed adtech veteran who cofounded Center City’s Amino, put it in colorful (delicious?) terms:

“We gained an Amazon sandwich,” Luttrell said, in reference to the two campuses that will take shape in the Northeast, luring 25,000 workers to each city. “Having adtech and product people close to recruit from” will be a plus for his company, while a Philly location as an Amazon hub would have made access to top talent even harder because the corporation would suck up much of that talent.

Ask Cory Donovan, who leads impact investing organization ImpactPHL, and he’ll point to how the national frenzy of the past year made Philly take stock, and think about what needs to improve.

“Amazon would have been both a shot in the arm and a big win in some ways,” Donovan said. “But this helped us look at what we can do better. Our poverty rate, for example.”

In a sense, said Coded by Kids’ Alexandria Leggett, the Amazon snub leaves one win: dodging the bullet of inequality.

“Being in the top 20 showed we’re doing the right things to be an innovative city, but it would have widened the gap between the tech elite and the working poor,” said Leggett. The sentiment echoes the work Naila Mattison is doing at The ITEM, a nonprofit working to provide low-cost tech certification and training for underrepresented youth in tech.

Possible adverse effects aside, Ben Franklin Technologies Partners’ VP of Marketing Jason Bannon praised the tech community’s ability to band together and shape the Philly Delivers pitch, hitting a tight six-week deadline collaboratively.

So what’s next for Philly? Well, since the now-disclosed Amazon incentive package revealed a long-term offer of $5.7 billion, Zivtech founder Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg has an idea.

“Why can’t that be given to companies already here?” he asked. “Why not incentivize your own companies to grow?”


Full disclosure: Coded by Kids’ Community Engagement Manager Alexandria Leggett worked as an events coordinator for from 2016 to 2018. That relationship is unrelated to this report.

Companies: Amazon

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