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March 7, 2018 1:23pm

Inside the Amazon Bid: What We Learned

Deana Epperly KaremEconomic development practitioners have never been as hard at work as they were in the Fall of 2017 when Amazon announced its search for a second corporate headquarters in North America.  Imagine – all of us in the biz – working at a steady (but urgent) pace to build relationships with real estate brokers, servicing existing industries, creating new ways to respond to traditional RFP’s, cutting ribbons on new announcements, answering phone calls, and expecting a somewhat usual routine to the week.

When, all of a sudden, in your email in-box is an invitation from the world’s fastest growing company inviting you to submit your best real estate assets, your most viable talent attraction programs, your most creative and competitive incentive packages, and your most entertaining and diverse assets so that they can put 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion (yes, BILLION with a ‘B’) of new investment in your region.  This is no small project and it was no longer a “business as usual” day in the office.

The RFP called for a regional response with an abundance of real estate, amenities and talent.  Together, our 15-county regional partnership had to deliver something beyond anything any one of us could do on our own.  This project was going to take more brain power and more resources than usual, and it was a wake-up call for our entire region.

Within the first few days, GLI and Louisville Forward had developed a plan to engage the 15 counties. We outlined a schedule that would engage our community partners and developed a response highlighting some of the best real estate, people-assets, lifestyle amenities, education tools, and partnerships we have to offer.  The enthusiasm was infectious and we were excited to get to work.

In the days that followed, our partners were hard at work developing videos, gathering data, and collecting information.  Our teams were busy writing and designing tables of facts and figures.  Real estate options were prioritized and the design of the proposal determined.  We created a war room – of sorts – at Louisville Forward’s main office and our county partners met with us each week to eliminate obstacles and brainstorm new ideas.  Never before had our surrounding counties come together in one room to work on something so important, so potentially transformational for all of us.

For the last 14 months, GLI had invested countless hours in building relationships throughout the 15-county, bi-state region.   And now we were humming on all cylinders.

As the proposal entered its final stages, there were rumors of what other communities were doing across the country.  We knew we had to stay competitive and that meant partnering with marketing professionals to design and develop materials that would help set us apart.  This would cost money.  How much is too much to win 50,000 new jobs?  In the end, GLI raised $100,000 in private funds to develop a competitive, professionally designed package of materials to deliver to the Amazon team.  Something we are very proud of.

In the end, greater Louisville did not make the cut for the Amazon HQ2, BUT we won in so many other ways.

The process of bidding on the project taught us how important our regional partnership is!  Companies want partners that stand ready to put county lines, and rivers aside for the good of business.  And we learned our private sector partners will invest in efforts to attract companies and create jobs.  Even when there is not a guarantee we will win.

Losing the Amazon bid taught us we still have a lot of work to do around talent and transportation specifically.  Improving our air service, and assuring the movement of people in and around our region is key to attracting companies like Amazon.  Continuing to develop programs that train tech talent and attracting talent to the region is key as we work together to grow companies in greater Louisville.

Bidding on the Amazon HQ2 project deepened our regional relationships and identified opportunities for meaningful collaboration.  Our counties are more fully aware of the assets of the region and how we can all work together.

Today, our new “business as usual” is us working together and we’re ready for the next opportunity.