Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Minnesota Didn’t Need Amazon Anyway

Dateline: 4:41 pm November 27, 2018 Filed under:

Kudos to Twin Cities leaders for not offering the kitchen sink to Amazon, as it seems the company had New York and Washington in mind all along. In the time it took for Amazon to decide what city (cities) to build its new HQ2, the Twin Cities added nearly half of the jobs it would have gained from landing Amazon. It does beg the question – what are we doing to attract future employment and talent to the Twin Cities? And do we need Amazon anyway?

A quick back-of-the-napkin calculation (I order my napkins and pens from Amazon) reveals the Twin Cities seven county area added nearly 10,000 jobs since September 2017 when Amazon put out its RFP for the HQ2 (September 2017 to September 2018, most recent data from MN DEED). Sure, that’s 40,000 fewer jobs than the 50,000 promised, but turns out it’s only 15,000 fewer than the 25,000 each that Crystal City, Virginia and Long Island City, New York will add. Since January 2017 the Twin Cities has added almost 100,000 new jobs, about double those promised by Amazon. The state of Minnesota added 36,450 jobs for the year ending October 31. I could go on.

Back to the two questions. Do we need Amazon? The easy answer is “no”, given the fact that we doubled the promised Amazon job creation. Secondly, what are we doing to attract employment and talent? That’s a little more nuanced. While you can argue we got double the promised Amazon jobs without even trying, that’s not true. We’re attracting employers to move here and grow here based on past and ongoing investment in education, transportation, infrastructure and other quality of life attractors. In other words, investing in people is paying off.

The University of Minnesota alone contributes $8.6 billion to the state’s economy, and in the past decade-plus the U of M has launched 119 startups that have attracted $397 billion of investment capital. Furthermore, 63 percent of U of M graduates remain in Minnesota. Mini tech hubs and other creative workers are transforming neighborhoods like the North Loop, Northeast Minneapolis and Midway, bringing funky shops and brewpubs with them. And just last week Neal St. Anthony reported in the Star Tribune about why companies such as Alorica and Graco are expanding in the Twin Cities.

True, it’s not all roses. The job categories with the greatest raw growth in the Twin Cities over the past year (leisure-hospitality, trade-transportation-utilties) are not necessarily the highest paying (finance, professional-business), but this is a common systemic problem nationally.

The larger point is the Twin Cities is strong, economically diverse, and has a lot going for it relative to other metro areas. I agree with Lee Schafer; when companies like Amazon come calling looking for tax breaks in exchange for moving to Minnesota, we should send them a gift basket and a letter explaining they are welcome to grow here based on an educated workforce, expanding transit network and great quality of life, but there will be no tax breaks. The gift basket will include wild rice, Spam, and a knit Bold North hat. Just don’t forget to add the growler of local craft beer.

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