Forget Austin or Toronto, Indianapolis Has What It Takes to Win HQ2

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HQ2 bid are being kept close to the vest by city leaders, he’d be “stunned if they’re not being super aggressive about incentives. I don’t see a scenario where we don’t win because there are not enough incentives.”

Cook also praised both state and city leaders for working together across party lines. “Not only is there cooperation between political parties, it’s been a regional effort, where the suburbs partner with the city,” he adds. “It’s a unified front, and I think sometimes people underestimate how important that is. With a project of this complexity, if different groups didn’t cooperate” it would be almost impossible to win HQ2, he says.

Dale agrees with Cook’s assessment. “Our business community cooperates with government,” he says, and points to organizations like the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership as an example of this kind of collaboration. “We have a local and state government that can go across party lines to do what’s best for the city and state, and that’s pretty rare.” He also points out that the state is fiscally sound, with a state constitution that prevents it from going into debt.

Quality of Life

National rankings of Indy’s quality of life are mixed, with some entities ranking the Circle City near the bottom, and others ranking the city closer to the top. Indianapolis has been recognized for a relatively low cost of living, cleanliness, low unemployment, a walkable downtown, a plethora of college and professional sports teams to root for, miles of recreational trails, and unique tourist destinations such as the children’s museum (one of the world’s largest) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500, the best-attended sporting event in the nation. More than 35 percent of Indianapolis residents are younger than 25, according to U.S. News and World Reports, and the city is teeming with Millennials.

A 2016 CNBC report found that Indiana ranks first in the country in cost of doing business and infrastructure, meaning it was cheaper to do business in Indiana than any other state. The same report ranked Indiana 8th nationally for cost of living, 13th for business friendliness, 18th for access to capital, and 20th for economy. But CNBC also ranked Indiana as 26th in terms of technology and innovation, 29th in education, and 45th in quality of life. (Keep in mind, though, that these rankings factor in the entire state, not just Indianapolis.)

Downsides, Challenges, and Final Takeaways

Tim Cook, the site selection expert, feels that for a guy like Bezos, culture and politics are important, perhaps to the exclusion of the other things Indy has going for it. “We’re not a very diverse city,” he admits. “Amazon is probably desiring [diversity] and it may be a key component to their decision, so that’s probably a check mark against our chances.” He imagines there are possible downsides to winning the HQ2 project, but because the project is likely to be transformative in many positive ways, it’s not something he worries about.

“It would bring a concentration of bright, innovative thinkers to the city,” Cook says. “Some people won’t stay at Amazon forever, and they’ll start their own companies,” which would further fuel the local tech community’s growth.

Michael Burton, senior vice president at Levementum, an Indianapolis IT company, says that an Indy HQ2 would no doubt lead to more congestion on the roadways and probably make it more expensive for small companies to do business, but that’s a small price to pay. “It will reshape Indy, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges,” he adds.

Costello’s Frank Dale believes that the opportunity for Bezos to reshape a city, to bend it toward his sensibilities, might be very compelling. Indianapolis offers more of an opportunity for world-building than denser, more populous metro areas on the list of finalists, such as Boston, Chicago, or Dallas, Dale says.

Dale has spent a lot of time studying Bezos. He recalls an anecdote from five years ago, when Bezos was speaking at an Amazon Web Services conference. Someone in the audience asked him how things will change in the next 10 years.

“He said, ‘The thing people never ask but should is, what’s not going to change?’” Dale notes. If a company can identify what won’t change, they can build a big business, Bezos told the crowd. Nobody will ever say they don’t want low prices, wide variety, or quick delivery.

“Bezos is a guy who makes long-term, unconventional bets. It will come down to core competencies, because I can’t imagine he’ll want a duplicate of the Seattle headquarters,” Dale predicts. “If logistics is the focal point, we are extremely competitive.”

Amazon is expected to name the winner of its HQ2 project sometime in 2018.

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the Custom Content Editor for Xconomy Insight. You can reach her at Follow @Xconomy

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