by Geoff Durham, Chamber President & CEO

originally published Oct. 19

These are exciting times for Durham!

A great deal has been reported in recent weeks regarding the Amazon site selection process, so I thought today, the deadline for Amazon proposals, would be the perfect time to provide an overview of where Durham is in the process and how we arrived to this point.

First the basics…

On September 7, Amazon sent shock waves across the country when they sent out a press release announcing their intent to open a second corporate headquarters, referred to as HQ2.

This caused state and local governments, economic development professionals, and business communities to shift into high-gear in preparation for a response.  It should be noted, unlike other national site selections and corporate relocations, this process was playing out in a public forum, allowing the media to identify locations and speculate on Amazon’s inclinations. Thus making the process a unique challenge.

So like many other industries before, Amazon has disrupted the confidential nature of economic development and the site selection process.

 So how big is big?

 Amazon’s HQ2, once they are fully operational over the next 10-15 years, will require 8 million square feet of space, will hire as many as 50,000 new full-time employees with an average total compensation of $100,000.  In total this project is expected to have over $5 billion in capital expenditures.   In context, Amazon’s proposed workforce would roughly be the equivalent to the entire employment base currently residing in RTP.

What is Amazon looking for?

 The Amazon RFP identifies preferences for: metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people; a stable and business-friendly environment; urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent; and communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.

Sounds like the Triangle community is a perfect fit.

A Regional Partnership

 In evaluating the requirements, Triangle communities quickly became aware that a regional response was the most effective strategy.  When joined together, Durham and our regional economic development partners, local jurisdictions and our area’s prestigious colleges and universities make the compelling case needed to attract major transformative projects such as the one detailed by Amazon.

A regional task force was assembled, representing inclusive membership of over 80 business and education leaders from around the region. Led by Co-Chairs, Farad Ali and Nate Spilker, the team advanced our regional economic development efforts by bringing together diverse insights and providing an array of expertise to help shape the Triangle’s final submission.

  Why is the Durham community a good fit for Amazon?

 Talent Pipeline

The Triangle Region is home to three nationally acclaimed Tier 1 research universities and 10 other colleges and universities producing more than 42,000 graduates per year serve to build upon our already impressive base of talent.

Authentic community and creative culture

Durham reflects Amazon’s corporate culture by celebrating diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Durham is an innovative, authentic and creative community that thrives in a simultaneously disruptive and collaborative business eco-system.

Quality of life

While frequently cultivated here, it is one of the nation’s best livability indexes that keeps our region’s talent in the community.  Because the Triangle is a region composed of many communities, a wide variety of housing options and price points are available due to the diverse offerings.

Thriving business community

Durham is already home to a wide array of outstanding companies ranging from our exploding start-up community to national corporate headquarters. This diverse and energized economy, the convergence of technologies and disciplines along with a highly-educated workforce has given Durham positive momentum leading to more than $8.5 billion in recent economic development announcements.

Multiple real estate options

With multiple viable sites, Durham does not have to “make room” for a company of the size, scale and ambition of Amazon.

  Mobility and connectivity

The Durham area continues to have low levels of traffic congestion as compared to other growing metros and the region has the highway corridor and arterial roadway capacities to support new development.

Additionally, with approved local funding that focuses on future needs of the Triangle, the multi-modal transit and commuter network of the region is poised to provide scalable and adaptable solutions to take advantage of emerging technologies and stay a step ahead of future growth.

Lastly, RDU provides the region with efficient air travel times to major US cities as well as international destinations and they continue to grow and expand their capacities.

 But is Amazon a good fit for Durham?

Let’s not kid ourselves, growth at the rate anticipated by Amazon could be detrimental to any community not prepared to take advantage of new and disruptive opportunities.

But Durham is not any community.

It time for Durham to do what Durham has always done…face challenges head-on together and persevere.

The Durham community must pull together with the local education and workforce development systems to create multiple career pathways providing for the wide array of entry levels and career growth opportunities that Amazon would bring. We must collaborate and innovate with the goal to insure that our citizens are well prepared and equipped with the necessary resources for us to take next big step together.