Don Cunningham was in a meeting in his Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, office when a colleague texted: “Amazon is looking for a new location. Let’s get it.” This wasn’t just any new location, but a second headquarters. As CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., a state-funded agency that lures businesses to the region, Cunningham huddled with his staff to read Amazon’s criteria.
They recognized they had shortcomings. Their region is smaller than Amazon wants, it doesn’t have a major airport, and while it does have colleges, they aren’t major research institutions. But Cunningham felt the Lehigh Valley could sell its affordable cost of living and proximity to major cities like New York and Philadelphia, both about an hour away. “We’re a little shy on some of these things, but we’ve got some things going for us so let’s give it a shot,” Cunningham said.
When Amazon announced it was inviting proposals for a second HQ–a corporate investment of $5 billion and 50,000 jobs–it set off a frenzy among governors, mayors, and bureaucrats around the country. As with Powerball, the large stakes lead to less rational behavior – all that matters is the jackpot. High paying tech jobs can permanently transform a region and raise the political prospects of the leader who helped seal the deal.