Alexa: Where’s Home?

I can’t get Amazon off my mind as the deadline looms closer for cities and regions wanting to land the retail giant’s second headquarters.

And it seems the same way for many others in town as well. Last week, I met with dozens of other Charlotteans to discuss ways the Queen City can convince the retail giant to call us home. We gathered at UNC Charlotte’s Center City campus to talk about Charlotte’s “intangible considerations,” aka item No.9 on the proposals being crafted by cities and regions that are due Oct. 19. I heard many compelling reasons for why Charlotte has a chance at landing Amazon’s second headquarters.

My friend and workout buddy Tim Whitmire organized the community forum, called HiveStorm: Amazon 2HQ Community Summit. The co-founder of the workout group F3 and the leadership firm The Iron Project, Whitmire has lived in cities across the country, including San Francisco, and he shared how he thinks Charlotte’s biggest strength isn’t the physical attributes, such as land. Rather, he says it’s what this region of 2.4 million people can offer to Amazon.

To explore this idea further, participants broke up into smaller groups based on topics, such as community, diversity, airport, business friendly. We were tasked with coming up with a headline for the Charlotte Observer for why Amazon chose Charlotte.

I worked with the “Sense of Community” group. Our headline is based off the idea of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talking to Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based service that plays music, shares the weather, provides news updates and generally runs the house.

Our headline was this:  Bezos: “Alexa, where’s home?”  Alexa: “Charlotte.”

To be sure, competition is fierce. As Ronnie Bryant of the Charlotte Regional Partnership told the crowd, Amazon executives are likely to trash between 75 and 90 percent of proposals the minute they arrive.

What is going to surprise Amazon executives about The Queen City?

  • Seattle executives are going to feel at home in Charlotte. We all know that Charlotte’s trees and its wide boulevards are a defining characteristic in neighborhoods. The landscape architect John Nolan and John Olmstead designed Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood and much of the Seattle park system. Olmsted designs typically created naturalistic settings that made room for large trees such as those in Seattle’s Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park.
  • Charlotte employers say they are ready to share their best talent with Amazon. Charlotte has more than 190,000 jobs in HQ-related occupations and 48,000 IT workers in the region.
  • Charlotte is a hot destination for millennials. We have the fastest millennial growth in America (according to the 2015 U.S. Census), and they build roots here because it is a nice, affordable city to start a family. They also like the sports, great airport and many cool “one tank” destinations that they can travel to.
  • Charlotte is a city known for big thinkers. Charlotte USA has a personality and identity which is growing and evolving and still being shaped by all the new people and companies moving here. There’s a true opportunity for Amazon to make its mark on this vibrant region.

Also, I heard about an interesting fact that may speak favorably to Amazon executives. One guy in my group who has lived in Charlotte for more than 20 years talked about his time living in Seattle. He said parts of older Seattle feel like Charlotte and that Charlotte epitomizes the New South as a large migrant population brings new ideas, new energy and progress. The people who come, stay. They build roots here. We all share a feeling that we are in this together and we are building something special. The city is small enough that individuals can still impact the city’s direction but large enough to provide world class restaurants, sporting events, concerts and opportunities. The fellow I was talking with wondered if the Amazon executives who live in the Queensgate suburb of Seattle which was designed by Nolen, would feel at home driving down Charlotte’s own Queens Road, another Nolen-influenced design.

Offering newcomers a familiar sense of “home” is an advantage. Who knows. We may not be in the lead, but from all I heard, we have a good shot.

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