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Economics / Philly Tech Week

Philly shouldn’t put out the fire behind the Amazon bid

At Technical.ly's Stakeholder meeting, some 30 members of the Philly tech community praised the collaborative effort to woo HQ2. What if that collaboration could be steered to other issues?

A scene from Technical.ly DC's recent stakeholder meeting. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)
If Amazon sets up a sprawling corporate campus anywhere in the Philly area, it will be a before-and-after moment for the city as a whole. But for its growing tech community, the transformation would undoubtedly be even more profound.

The talent implications, the impact on culture, the leverage it would have on city government. Would the $5 billion project be worth the trade-off ?

As the country awaits Amazon’s shortlist of HQ2 hopefuls — a shortlist might be emerging in early 2018, maybe — Philly’s tech ecosystem is left to ask itself what it truly wants out of the Amazon bonanza, and why. Last week Technical.ly gathered some 30 tech leaders to get their take on 2017’s hottest bid process and Philly’s efforts to come out on top.

“The campaign was amazing,” declared TechGirlz founder Tracey Welson-Rossman. “It was the first time in close to 20 years that I heard everyone on one message. If we don’t get Amazon, we should be prepared to go for the next one. Because when opportunities come, we should be prepared for them.”

Welson-Rossman asked not to talk about the proposal in terms of return-on-investment (Philly agencies spent $245,000 on the effort itself, Philadelphia Weekly reported, not to mention the value of the tax incentives offered in the pitch) but more about how the city sees itself and readies itself for similar, national-scale projects.

Lauren Cox, comms manager at the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce who helped organize the HQ2 pitch effort, said Philly’s oft-touted talent pool came together to compile the bid.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever worked on,” said Cox.

For Indy Hall cofounder and P’unk Ave principal Geoff DiMasi, Philly is yet to fully grapple with what the tradeoff would be. “If you’re in a business, you have to qualify your leads,” DiMasi said. “What does it mean we win?” Is Amazon really a qualified lead?

For the Science Center’s Jeanne Mell, the proposal — introduced by Mayor Kenney in October with an enthused: “We’re going to win” — is an example of how people with differing goals can can come together, an observation that Sylvester Mobley, founder of Coded by Kids, met with a challenge.

“It would be nice to see same collaboration in general,” Mobley said. “Yes, [Amazon] would be great but there are things that, if there were same amount of collaboration for, could have a great impact on the city.”

What Philly needs, per Shari Schapiro, Uber’s head of Public Affairs for Pennsylvania and Delaware, is a post-Amazon strategy, no matter the outcome of the bid process.

“We’ll lose if we don’t leverage the content and the product that we created,” Shapiro said.

(Cox quickly chimed in: such a strategy in the works over at Commerce. )

P.S. Here’s more Amazon discussion by way of a panel organized by PANMA.

Companies: Amazon

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