Tuesday, October 24, 2017


As many of you may have heard, Amazon is looking to expand in North America, and sent out a general request for proposals. Well over 200 cities across North America have made their case for being Amazons second home, or its HQ2. My hometown, the city of Bakersfield, has submitted its proposal (it begins on page 7). And why not? Wherever they land, Amazon is expected to invest $5 billion in the region, and promises to create 50,000 jobs with an average salary of $100,000.

This is pretty heady stuff for a city like Bakersfield, where the median household income is about $56,000 and unemployment is regularly 1.5 to 2 percentage points higher than the state average.

Acknowledging that the city doesn't meet Amazon's minimum city population range (1 million residents), the city of Bakersfield's proposal cites abundant and cheap land, a business friendly environment, and our proximity to Interstate 5 and Highway 58.

While these enticements might be a good starting point for building Amazon's confidence in our region, the reality is our city's proposal ignores other aspects of Amazon's RFP guidelines, which they will no doubt notice.

For example, with one of the lowest college graduation rates in the country, Bakersfield will find it hard to meet the "corresponding educational attainment" Amazon's RFP requires. Filling the estimated 50,000 tech oriented jobs Amazon will require "over the multiple years" will be similarly difficult.

But there's more.

Amazon's headquarters in Seattle, Washington.
In the areas of "Cultural Community Fit" and "Community/Quality of Life" outlined in Amazon's RFP, the city of Bakersfield and its surrounding region simply doesn't provide "a compatible cultural and community environment for [Amazon's] long-term success." Specifically, with its current headquarters located in Seattle, Washington, Amazon has its foot in Asia, is on Canada's doorstep, and is looking for a region that supports "a diverse population, excellent institutions of higher education" and an overall "high quality of life" that includes a civic embrace of "educational opportunities." 

This was the backbone behind the creation of the Silicon Valley and Seattle's high tech corridor, which Amazon understands. This means Amazon needs creative people. Creativity requires individuals have the capacity to express themselves both professionally and personally.

Ten years ago, in 2007, a Bakersfield city councilman proposed making the city of Bakersfield an English-only, non-sanctuary city. Think how much Amazon's foreign-born, H-1B visa holding, workforce would thrive in this kind of environment.

The Bakersfield city councilman's "non-sanctuary city" effort failed. But he was later rewarded by being elected county supervisor. He's currently a big supporter of Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who pressed the Kern County Board of Supervisors over this past summer to vote on a measure that would - yeah, you guessed it - make Kern County a non-sanctuary county. Sheriff Youngblood has also refused to sign most U-Visas presented to him. U-Visas allow undocumented immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crime to stay in the country while their case is settled.

Global companies like Amazon notice this kind of stuff.

Then, last year, the city of Bakersfield's elected officials, at all levels, turned their backs on a one-eighth-cent library tax that would help fund our county's often closed, and woefully understaffed, library system.

Turning your back on a healthy library system is not a good thing when you want to pretend your community supports literacy and education, and when your region was once referred to as the "Appalachia of the West."

Again, companies like Amazon notice this kind of stuff.

Then we have our regions attitude towards the LGBT community. As God-fearing Christians, many of our region's political leadership have made it clear they are not really interested in promoting the rights of our LGBT community, no matter how creative they might be. The Bible, you know.

I think it's pretty clear that companies like Amazon notice this kind of stuff too.

I also appreciated how our city's proposal included downtown Bakersfield as one of the potential sites, with a computer rendition of what Amazon's HQ2 would look like with the state's High-Speed Rail (HSR) project running through the area.

There's only one problem with this HSR-linked site. Almost every elected Bakersfield city and Kern County official have made it clear they are opposed to bringing the HSR project to Bakersfield. Oh, and our local congressman, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, is an ardent opponent of the HSR project too.

And, yes, companies like Amazon notice this kind of stuff.

In sum, what Amazon will notice as they go through their proposals is that the characteristics critical for the creativity and entrepreneurialism they require - an embrace of diversity and tolerance - are not always supported or welcome in Bakersfield. Cheap land and a "friendly" business environment can only go so far.

Too bad. Amazon is exactly the type of company that could help turn Bakersfield and Kern County into the region our city's proposal is trying to present, or portray, to Amazon.

And, yes, Amazon will notice this too.

- Mark

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think Bakersfield applying is a good thing. As the recent Economist highlights it gets people together to think about how to make our community better. As a grant writer/developer I see these as opportunities to assess our strengths and areas to grow