Maybe we were Amazon’s No. 21. Ever think of that Kansas City?
Amazon released the 20 finalists for its second headquarters — the $38 billion colossus HQ2 that’s expected to bring 50,000 jobs to some lucky city — and Kansas City missed the cut. So did San Francisco, Minneapolis and Las Vegas. In all, Amazon rejected 218 metropolitan contenders.
How many of them are beating themselves up?
Kansas Citians didn’t have to stretch far to find reasons their town missed out. Some took the news as evidence of serious shortcomings — KCI, the quality of higher education, thin population density and a lack of tech jobs. Others see more benign reasons Amazon HQ2 won’t be landing here — Amazon’s list of 20 cities reflects a preference for big cities out east.
Most saw the news as reason to keep improving on many fronts. The priorities on Amazon’s call for proposals — it prioritized transit systems, strong higher education institutions and stable, business-friendly environments — was seen by some as a blueprint for cities as they plan their future.
“They were telling us exactly what kind of city will be a successful city in the future,” said Frank Lenk, director of research services for the Mid-America Regional Council. “We need to analyze that and find out where we might have come up short.
“We’re adding close to 5,000 tech jobs a year, at least, so over a 10-year period we’re adding the equivalent of an Amazon HQ2,” Lenk said. “Maybe not the headquarters of a large company that announces to the world that you’ve arrived, but we are creating high quality tech jobs every day.”
In a note to investors, the Kansas City Area Development Council suggested it had received positive feedback from Amazon about its submission.
“We are highly encouraged by the dialogue we have had with the company since this morning’s announcement, and we believe we have a promising future with Amazon,” the note read.
In whittling down the list of aspirants, the Seattle-based online retail giant was partial to East Coast cities and areas with large, dense populations.
The 20 cities or metro areas selected to move on to the next phase of the process were Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Md.; Nashville, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; New York City; Northern Virginia, Va.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, N.C.; Toronto; and Washington, D.C.
Twelve are on or near the East Coast. Only one, Los Angeles, was on the West Coast. Among more centrally located cities, most were in Texas or around the Great Lakes region.
“They have things we haven’t developed yet, like a world class airport,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said of competitive peer cities like Denver and Indianapolis that did make the list. “The important thing is that we made a good effort.”
Tim Cowden, president and chief executive of the Kansas City Area Development Council, which coordinated the region’s response to the HQ2 opportunity, said he is seeking feedback from Amazon about why Kansas City got left off.
“If you look at the markets that made the cut, nine of the 10 largest markets in the United States by population are still being considered,” Cowden said. “A vast majority of the markets are in the eastern time zone. There’s not a lot we can do with regard to our geography but certainly, we would be open to learning as much as we can.”
Cities closer to Kansas City in size and geography had strong urban university systems, which Amazon prioritized in its call for proposals. Columbus has Ohio State University, one of the largest public universities in the United States. Nashville has Vanderbilt University, one of the most well-regarded private universities outside of the Ivy League.
For a metro area that has fashioned itself as being on the rise, Amazon’s omission of Kansas City came as something of a body blow.
“It’s disappointing we did not make the top 20,” Lenk said. “We consider ourselves a top 20 metro in the tech field. And by some measures we are, but not according to Amazon. I think that is a bit of a gut check for us.”
The decision gives city leaders a list of ideas of areas for improvement should another opportunity like Amazon HQ2 come along.
An Amazon spokeswoman declined to discuss why the company chose the 20 finalists, or why it left Kansas City off the list.
“I think it gives us a good road map for what companies now and in the future will be looking for,” said Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, referring to a high-tech workforce, a mature public transit system and higher education.
It turns out publicity stunts, like the one where Mayor James plugged the city in Amazon product reviews, aren’t on that road map.
“I think (Mayor James) should ask about their return policy,” Stephen Yeargin quipped on Twitter.