Be Humble

Why Tampa Bay is not on the Amazon HQ2 shortlist

None of the Tampa Bay executives I interviewed last year thought Tampa Bay would make it into the Amazon main event and most of them thought the entire state of Florida was a long shot.  What was certain to follow the HQ2 announcement was a torrent of expert opinions explaining what missing the shortlist means to and about the area.

The first stanza would play the economic high notes of the past decade and almost certainly argue, ‘we are just as good as fill in the blank community’.  It would be followed shortly by the Kool Aid jingoism of, ‘we need more: transportation, business incentives, investment in education, etc.’  We’ve heard these songs so often that various audiences join in and sing the chorus right on cue. But when the individual voices die down, Tampa Bay will revert to the song that has become part of our DNA: ‘well it was a long shot; it would have been nice but; Tampa Bay is really not in the big leagues so what can you expect?’

BE HUMBLE.  At heart, Tampa Bay thinks and acts like a little league region. Although the regional Kool Aid makers are shouting at the top of their lungs about Super Bowls, Stanley Cup Playoffs, Final Fours and college championship games.  But if they were keeping it real they would admit that special events are not the life blood of world class competition. They would admit we’re still playing Tetris while the big league game is Sim City 2020.

We need to stop trying to cut/paste ourselves into the game and start thinking about the structure of world class competition and what it takes to go viral in the twenty-first century. Tampa Bay needs to do what every winning program does, (New England Patriots, Alabama, San Antonio Spurs and yes Amazon and Google) build a culture for success. The cities on the HQ2 shortlist provide some clues about what Amazon believes is foundational to that culture.

The east coast won the regional beauty contest but almost every region placed a city on the shortlist. In the southeast Atlanta and the research triangle of Raleigh-Durham are perennial finalists as are Austin and Dallas, Texas.  But the HQ2 selection makes a more profound statement when you consider that the shortlist is about a preference for diversity, progressive policies and communities willing and able to invest in the future.

The HQ2 shortlist is almost a perfect match for the list of most diverse cities in America. They are already diverse but perhaps more importantly they are destinations of choice for white, black, brown and international people on the move. Diversity is already a foundational element of the Amazon all stars and they are also committed to diversity 4.0. None of the finalists needed to Photoshop diversity into their proposals, it is visible at all points on the community compass. In the Southeast, two of the three HQ2 finalists, Atlanta and Miami, are considered international hubs that are growing more diverse at rates far above the national average.

HQ2 also appears to prefer communities that are focused on twenty-first century success as opposed to places that are trying to return to what made America great in the 1950’s.  95% of the cities on the shortlist have democratic mayors or chief executives. And no, it’s not simply because all the cities are strongholds of liberal politics. Democrats control only 61% of the 100 largest cities in America. Instead it appears that there is a strong correlation between progressive policies; LGBTQ rights, fair wages, attention to environmental issues and the HQ2 shortlist.

Finally, HQ2 seems to be focused on communities with a proven track record of strong public and private leadership able to collaborate when there is big league competition. There are a variety of collaboration models on the shortlist: the corporate dynamic leadership of Atlanta; the strong mayoral leadership of Chicago or the collaboration of the greater New York metro area.  One could argue that the metro collaboration in the NYC area was strong enough to drag Newark, NJ, not a preferred destination for any stakeholder group, onto the list of finalists.  HQ2 finalist have proven they have aculture of collaboration and an ability to think in terms of mutual sum gain.

So, Tampa Bay, we need to be HUMBLE because today we don’t belong on the field with the HQ2 all stars. I get it; we are young and growing, it wasn’t long ago we, “…remember (eating) syrup sandwiches”.  But if we are ever going to compete in the big league we need to become a community with diversity 4.0. and progressive public policies in our DNA. And most of all we need leaders that can be humble enough to collaborate and make some regional big league plays instead of just focusing on what happened on their block.

Tony Collins

h/t Kendrick Lamar


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