WITHER DETROIT

Amazon's reality show approach to naming the state and local government that wins the honor of giving it billions in handouts entered the "prelude to Rose Ceremony" phase last week with its release of the most predictable list of finalist cities ever.

Chicago? Austin? You don't say.

You can see the layers of bullshit from a mile away. It's very obvious that the executives have no interest in finding a place that best fit the criteria and instead just want to make sure they can relocate somewhere sufficiently Cool. How can I tell? Because Detroit isn't on the list.

If this process were driven by any kind of legitimate analysis of what each city can offer, places like Detroit and St. Louis would be at the top of the list. Memphis and Louisville too, maybe Indianapolis. Any of them could fit the following description, but for narrative simplicity let's just talk about Detroit.

Detroit is one of the handful of examples of a city in which it really, legitimately makes sense to find a company like Amazon and say "Here, take whatever you want." Billions in tax giveaways to get a company to move to Chicago, Austin, or Pittsburgh make little sense because those cities are, on the whole, already doing pretty goddamn well. Moving Amazon in might even displace something already there (aside from low-income housing residents, whom Amazon will very definitely displace).

Detroit is half empty. It and St. Louis have not one but TWO enormous airports largely idle. If any local government could make the argument, "Look, let's just give them the Renaissance Center for free" and have it not be an exercise in pointless corporate bootlicking, it's Detroit. The company could utterly call the shots in a place like that since there is so much unoccupied construction. "Detroit, we would like our HQ here, can you raze this ten square block area?" Yes. Yes they sure can.

And nobody would be displaced. Ideally that's how a process like this would work. Find capacity that isn't being used and use it. Instead they're going to show up in Atlanta or Austin or Chicago, point to an area that is already occupied, and say "Get rid of them, we want this." And of course the state and local governments will bend over backwards to do it.

But why? It makes no sense of course, but the higher ups at a tech company basically just want to make sure they can live somewhere suitably Hip. The tax breaks are irrelevant – any state government will readily hand those over in staggering amounts these days.

Next time some corporate giant goes through this process they should just admit "We only think the coasts and maybe four places between them are good enough, so everyone else fuck off." Save Buffalo the trouble. In a system with even the faintest echo of economic planning, though, our government at the national level would be working to direct this process toward the places where 1) infrastructure is in place but currently idle, i.e. being wasted and 2) bringing in a new corporate giant won't displace a lot of what is already there.

But planning is Communist, so instead we get this shitshow leading up to the inevitable "We're going to Austin!" announcement, ignoring that the city is already a cookie with vastly too much cream shoved in it, no remotely affordable housing, and an impending water crisis that will resemble something in Road Warrior. But it's just so COOL.

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41 Responses to “WITHER DETROIT”

  1. jcdenton Says:

    [citations needed] podcast does an excellent job of covering lotteryism and the insipid complicity of the press in this process.

    Part I: https://soundcloud.com/citationsneeded/lotteryism-part-i-how-the-rich-manipulate-the-press-to-divide-us
    Part II: https://soundcloud.com/citationsneeded/ep-20-lotteryism-part-ii-how-sports-are-used-to-fleece-public-trusts

  2. Linda Zillmer Says:

    Amazon?
    Wisconsin's $3 Billion deal in state incentives to have FoxConn tear up undeveloped farmland rather than revitalize Milwaukee is currently estimated to cost the public upwards of $4.5 Billion.
    Hard to outdo that kind of "good deal."

  3. jon Says:

    Cape Town, Texas.

    But without the nearby ocean for far-fetched desalination projects.

  4. Michael Says:

    I was really hoping to see a Detroit wind up with this new HQ instead of overcrowded, overpriced cities stumbling over themselves to hand out huge numbers of taxpayer dollars to companies who really, really don’t need it.

  5. Joseph Says:

    This. A thousand times this. Detroit would be perfect.

  6. David Says:

    Says the writer who repeatedly derides Peoria as a shithole.

  7. Kim Says:

    I've been saying Memphis since they announced their intentions.
    (FedEx has their own damned wing of the airport here ffs)
    Detroit is also a good option.
    I never thought they were looking to actually do help a community, though this was an ideal opportunity to do so.
    So, once again they've lived down to my expectations.
    *sigh*

  8. Katydid Says:

    I was also rooting for Detroit for all the reasons Ed mentioned and more. Since real estate is so cheap and available houses already empty and waiting for owners there, the workers could easily afford to live close to work. The highways are already built out and under-used. A lot of the population there is already trying to revitalize the place so the quality of life would be good, with local farmers markets, cultural activities, and parks.

  9. Ten Bears Says:

    I am perfectly happy with Seattle on the list. Portland, or Prineville, is not.

  10. jcastarz Says:

    This post reflects a deficiency I see with our latest tax reform: the Feds could have taken the time to define economically depressed regions in our country, and then lowered the corporate tax rate even further for those. Say – for the next ten years – any business operating in region such-n-such pays 1/2 the federal corporate tax rate. Not a perfect solution perhaps, but an incentive to revitalize economically devastated areas. No, the "cool dudes" may not have bought into it, but other companies would have, and every one of them would count.

  11. Alan Says:

    Pittsburgh? Columbus? Newark?

    I mean, maybe they'll be passed over in the final round, but not everyplace that made the cut is Austin.

  12. Mm Says:

    I’m sure that Bentonville, Arkansas was quite the shithole before Walmart.

    Huntsville, Alabama too before the rocket scientists moved in.

    Jeff Bezos and Amazon are going to do fine wherever the new HQ is.

    He could really add to his legacy by picking one of these under-utilized but once-great cities. The people will come.

  13. Rory Wohl Says:

    Actually, it's even more of a fixed game that you point out. Do you know why three of the locations are in the metro D.C. area? Could it have anything to do with the fact that Mr. Bezos spends a great deal of time at his "other" company, the Washington Post, has a big house in the area, and might just be a bit of a control freak and feels a little "out of sorts" with Amazon so far away in Seattle? Nah, couldn't be that.

  14. Leslee Beldotti Says:

    Good lord. I'm so glad we got out of Austin when we did last year. It lost all of its charms 15 years ago. Austin was never designed to accommodate the population it currently has. The highways are a mess of confusing lane additions and choke points, making the traffic a daily rendition of Death Race 2000. Adding Amazon would destroy that town. Not to mention the fact that the cost of housing has been going to hell in a gentrified handbasket for the past couple of years… Ugh.

  15. drew Says:

    They have to hire, too. It's going to be easier to find folks who want to work in Austin. And given that they're tech jobs, expect a stint there to last for 3-4 years at most. So there's a huge downside for Detroit for potential hires – who else in Detroit would hire them? So Detroit? Not so much.
    As expected, its going to be someplace with software already happening. And when Amazon picks it, it immediately jumps to #3 city for software in the US.

  16. Katydid Says:

    @Rory Wohl; I was wondering why Montgomery County made the list; it's densely populated and very expensive. Baltimore would have been a better choice–Under Armor is building a campus there on former airplane factory property and there would have been room for Amazon. Baltimore has a lower cost of living, close to a major international airport and reasonably-distanced from 2 other international airports, the cost of living is reasonable and there are a ton of top-rated universites and an educated population.

  17. Steve Holt! Says:

    Amazon sent their B-team out here to the middle of NC to sniff around. I would not be surprised to learn that our John Birch Society Jr League state legislature greeted them with frenzied hand jobs. Anyhoo, they slow danced and smiled for the local news cameras, ate at some nice restaurants on our dime and then said "nah."

  18. Benny Lava Says:

    Wrong wrong wrong! Detroit has nothing to offer Amazon. Cheap land? Who cares. They aren't a shipping hub. They aren't a talent magnate. They have no mass transit or commuter rail. The whole region is a big, segregated, sprawly auto dependent mess.

    At least Chicago has a large chunk of undeveloped real estate close to their downtown and train lines. I thought you lived in Chicago Ed. You don't know about Rezkoville?

    My money is on Boston. After all, this isn't charity. Its business

  19. Judas Peckerwood Says:

    Fuck Amazon. That is all.

  20. mago Says:

    "an impending water crisis that will resemble something in Road Warrior"
    A crisis can be cleansing. And COOL.

  21. Aurora S Says:

    How Black are the cities that Amazon has decided to flatly ignore? Because odds are, that has something to do with it.

  22. Matt Says:

    Interestingly, parts of Detroit have already turned around enough that the speculators have showed up – I recently saw a half-COLLAPSED Victorian place in Midtown listed at $350k. There's a sharp blending in that area, with just-renovated luxury lofts adjacent to still-abandoned buildings…

  23. Tengrain Says:

    Lemme give you the perspective from Seattle, and as I look out my window I can see Amazonia glowing down by Lake Union.

    Take them. We don't want them.

    What Bezos is doing is pitting everyone against everyone else looking for the cheapest deal possible, including trying to get Seattle to sweeten the existing deal (and remember, they didn't announce HQ2 until Seattle floated starting a city-wide income tax)

    Chicago has offered to let Amazon keep their employees withholding, essentially meaning employees will be paying Bezos for the privilege of working for him. That's what has his spidey senses tingling.

    Seriously, I wouldn't wish Amazon on any city, let alone one struggling like Detroit, so be careful what you wish for.

    Regards,

    Tengrain

  24. Danno Says:

    You are right that Austin getting Amazon would be a bad thing, but you are wrong on the water supply. Amazon doesn't gulp water like chip manufacturers. They would just be population growth, which is already planned for. There is plenty of water in the basin currently being wasted to flood rice fields and grow turfgrass. And there is groundwater available nearby. And despite all the bitching, housing costs are near the national average and a good bit cheaper than California, D.C., or Boston. Still, i very much want them to go elsewhere. The thought of giving a rich company tax breaks sickens me.

  25. Quinn Says:

    If we're going to go thaf route, Gary would've been the way to go. Plenty of cheap land plus an airport and immediate access to rail and road just 30 to 40 minutes outside Chicago.

  26. Amateur Socialist Says:

    If Amazon HQ2 ends up in Austin it will just be the next horrible step transforming the once sleepy college town into San Jose, sans the convenient access to San Francisco. When I moved there in 96 the civic leadership was surprisingly progressive minded. I recall wistfully a lot of high minded blather about "Smart Growth", planned investments in transit infrastructure, efforts to promote housing density etc.

    But as so often happens especially in Texas the bidness guys ultimately defeated two major transit initiatives and managed to drive away the working class residents. To the point that a good friend recently observed he couldn't manage to buy a house in his current neighborhood. He's an 18 year technology development guy who has had a good if typical career and just switched jobs with a significant pay increase.

    After watching the abandonment of the once lofty aims of civic leaders, I abandoned the city years ago for the best of reasons. I fell in love and wanted to get married and we quickly realized my house in Austin would be much easier to sell than his sprawling place in the country. So it sold in one day to some flippers who probably made out famously on their investment. So it goes.

    Now I'm an Austin apostate genuinely dismayed not just by what it has become but what might have been. Amazon and the city deserve each other. #AustinApostacy

  27. Mike's Blog Round Up – NEWSFUZZ Says:

    […] Gin and Tacos: Detroit should get the rose from Jeff Bezos. […]

  28. Mo Says:

    Maybe Chinese solar panel corporations would be interested in setting up plants in Detroit. The Chinatown alone would be awesome.

  29. Mo Says:

    This whole thread has given me a sick urge to re-read David Wong's series on [undisclosed].

    OK, again.

  30. Major Kong Says:

    I fly to Detroit fairly regularly.

    The Captain, usually from some place in the South, is always amazed to find out it's not the post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellscape that they all seem to think it is.

  31. Kaleberg Says:

    Anyone who has watched how companies choose where to move their headquarters knows that the major deciding factor is where the CEO wants to live. That suggests the DC area. When the head of Boeing got spooked by that earthquake in Seattle around 2000 or so, he moved the company headquarters to Chicago, a city his wife was fond of. When CEOs were moving out of the cities to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, IBM moved its headquarters out of NYC to Armonk, NY just as Pepsi moved its headquarters to Purchase, CT.

    The whole point of Amazon is world-wide logistics. They need facilities at important transportation nodes, but the command and control can be done from anywhere with a fiber optic connection. The CEO is not going to be hauling cartons from the warehouse out to a truck.

  32. cromartie Says:

    Detroit is indeed a very good litmus test for the actual requirements, which were….

    Stable/Business Friendly Environment. Yes. The Michigan legislature is (R) controlled and as willing to bend over and grab their ankles as the next city.

    30 Miles of a Population Center. Yes. 4.3 million people in the Metro on the US side.

    Proximity to Highways and arterial roads. Yes. 75 runs Canada to Miami. 94/69 will run US to Mexico.

    Plenty of space for the 8 million square feet required.

    Major Air Hub. Yes. Delta's hub, inherited from Northwest, coalesces nicely with Seattle as a major Delta city of focus. Also, you can fly directly to Paris, London and Beijing, to name three international routes, from Detroit. Half of all trade between the US and Canada goes through Detroit, so whomever suggested Detroit doesn't have the cargo infrastructure above can fuck the fuck right off.

    Proximity to Major Universities: Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Oakland, UDM and four MAC schools within a two hour drive makes for a pretty large midwestern recruiting pool. A lot of graduates out migrate who would love to not have to.

    Cost of Living: Comparable with the other midwestern cities on the list. There is no cost of living difference between Detroit and Columbus or Indianapolis.

    What there isn't is a public transit infrastructure and, and this is debatable, a lot of hispter things to do within proximity.

    And then there's the video, which was the best of the bunch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO4J_PC1b5M

    There is no reason Detroit should have been eschewed in favor of, at minimum, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Columbus or Nashvile. None have the transportation infrastructure, reach of talent, space or economic advantages Detroit does. They do have the cultural advantage.

    But this is largely academic, anyway. The answer is CEO proximity, and that means DC, Montgomery County or Northern Virginia. And that's a shame.

  33. Major Kong Says:

    Columbus has I-71, I-70, rail plus a dedicated cargo airport (LCK).

  34. democommie Says:

    @ Judas Peckerwood:

    Yeeeeeeeeeuup!

    I've seen a handful of what look to be BezoBroz saying he'd beat Trumpligulamygdala. Please! Fucking, hell, NOOO!

    @ Aurora S.:

    How incredibly ROOD of you to bring up racism when so many were just, y'know, ignoring it!

    Yes, I noticed it, too.

  35. Benny Lava Says:

    According to estimates about half of Detroiters are functionally illiterate. Perfect labor pool for a tech company: https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/858307

    Then when Amazon sets up shop in the middle of Detroit how long before liberals start screaming that Amazon is hiring too many suburbanites. But a bankrupt city that can't fix potholes or plow the streets or keep the lights on is perfect for a tech company.

  36. Derrell Says:

    All of your "not Austin" comments apply equally well to Denver, which, naturally, also made the cut. Detroit, St Louis, and probably fifteen other "Middle America" spots would have been far better choices (my first reaction to the announcement was to suggest St Louis).

  37. Phil Says:

    Amazon: we want to move to a place that has a lot of tech experts and good picking transit.

    Detroit: we don't have a lot of tech experts or public transit.

    Amazon: we won't be going too Detroit because they don't have tech experts and good public transit.

    Internet: Why didn't they pick Detroit?!? They're idiots!

    https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/john-gallagher/2018/01/18/detroit-amazon-headquarters-finalists/1043624001/

  38. Scott Says:

    Overall you're absolutely correct, but one nit: There aren't two enormous airports largely idle.
    The one real one, Detroit Metro, is generally pretty crowded.
    The 7 other airports within an hour's drive are mostly small, and dedicated to cargo, regional, charter, private air or commuter traffic.
    Willow Run is an enormous WWII relic, but hasn't, to my knowledge, been used for commercial traffic in decades. (They do run a great airshow every summer though.)

  39. democommie Says:

    This has been going on since Og told Nurg that his cave might be the one where they would install the new invention (and god) FIRE! That would depend on how quick Nurg was to hand over to Og that big, fat marrow bone that he had just grabbed up.

  40. Antojanes Says:

    I love Detroit

  41. Piesinos Says:

    great post