Against Becoming “Rhode Island and the Amazon Plantations”


The buzz is all around:  Corporate giant Amazon is in the market for a second headquarters — HQ2 — and the governments of cities and states across America are widely expected to make a competitive play for the honor of housing it, even if those same governments have only proven capable of keeping their current populations under H2O.

Americans should find this whole development disturbing.  Consider the implications of this paragraph from Ted Nesi’s WPRI reporting:

Bids for the new headquarters are due Oct. 19 to Amazon’s Office of Economic Development in Seattle. The company will announce its choice next year.

Regional governments are bidding to the economic development office of a private company for the privilege of serving its headquarters.  What does it mean for elected officials to be chasing the Amazon cornucopia in that fashion?

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For one thing, the process sounds a bit like state governments’ applying to the federal government for competitive grants, and that exercise has proven to be one of the key ways in which the federal government has nudged states to adopt policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

Moreover, allowing our government to take the position of contractor to the company would make us all vulnerable to losing our state.  Even if Amazon only puts Rhode Island in the running, none of our petty concerns about our own lives will even rate.  Our entire system will be transformed to serve Amazon, and our government will become little more than a middleman between us and the company.  No, thank you.

Instead, we should be trying to make Rhode Island the sort of state that a company like Amazon would approach independently.  That would put the leverage in the right direction.  And even better:  Such a state would attract companies of all sizes and create the environment for the creation of the next Amazon.

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  • Rhett Hardwick

    Justin makes an excellent point. I am think of nearby Foxboro, MA. For many years, it was “owned” by the Foxboro Company. Practically every elected official was an employee of the Foxboro Company. I don’t know how much actual harm was done, perhaps little. Either way, it was possibly a question of opportunity.

    Rhode Island is not without experience with Mill Towns. Eventually, Amazon will subside (it is under pressure now), what then?

    I mentioned below that “tax credits” had become the big game, I didn’t realize that companies were now “taking bids”. A city I pay taxes in recently gave $50,000 to a small window company for bringing 8 jobs to town. They moved from a neighboring town, it is unlikely that the employees will move and become tax payers. Marvelous, almost as good the Feds calling for help from private citizens in Texas. (Did any one else see the video clip of the Cajun Navy rescuing a National Guard truck?)