Dear Amazon: Why Not Us?By DAVE KIFFER
January 24, 2018
The Seattle-based internet leviathan announced last year that it was looking at creating a second "headquarters" in North America. At stake are an estimated 50,000 jobs and untold tens of millions of dollars of economic boost for the lucky community (Pick me, pick me, pick me!!!!).
They just announced the finalists (pick me, pick me, pick me!!!). Most of the locations are in the center of the country or on the East Coast, because Amazon would clearly like to "spread the wealth" out of the West Coast, but Los Angeles and Denver are still on the list. Seattle didn't make the cut because - well - because it already has 50,000 Amazon employees.
That didn't stop the Emerald City from making a bid though!
Anyway, the reason that Ketchikan is not on the final list of 20 communities is because - well - we didn't send in a proposal.
At the time that seemed like a prudent action because Amazon's list of requirements indicated that it was looking for a major metropolitan area. Ketchikan has a lot of things going for it. Probably the best thing is that it is NOT a "major metropolitan area."
But I began to question the wisdom of not throwing our rain hat in the ring when I was accosted in a local grocery store a few weeks ago by a "very strong proponent of Ketchikan."
One of the joys of being a local elected official is that you get accosted in the grocery store a lot.
While this is not necessary a bad thing, sometimes it means you have to shop between 11 pm and 5 am just to avoid getting accosted. People who have thoughts they want to share on local government generally do not shop between 11 pm and 5 am. The people who shop then are more likely to accost you for pocket change, so I always bring a handful of quarters when I shop between 11 pm and 5 am. That is less of a problem than drowning in the ice cream that melts and leaks down your arm as you get accosted by well meaning constituents if you shop between 5 am and 11 pm.
But I digress.
Anyway, I was NOT shopping between 11 pm and 5 am and a strong proponent for a "brighter economic future for Ketchikan" asked me if Ketchikan was going to put in a bid for the new Amazonopolis (also occasionally referred as "Amazon (pronounced Ah-MAY-zon) Grace.")
I laughed out loud, which was the wrong thing to do.
"I am serious," he persisted. "Why not us?"
Why not us, indeed!
Ketchikan has always punched above its weight, community wise. No community of 14,000 in the Lower 48 has half the amenities that we do, We have a full sized hospital, a huge art community, a shipyard, an "international" airport, a McDonalds, a Wal-Mart, a Starbucks (more on that later).
So why would we not be a good fit for 50,000 Amazon worker bees and the tens of millions of dollars they would circulate in our community.
Well, there are a couple of possible reasons.
First, as noted above, we are not a "major metropolitan area."
"Which is why we would be perfect," the accoster countered. "It's not some big city. They will all love the outdoors. They will love the hunting and fishing."
Usually a company reflects the ethos of its founder. I can't even begin to imagine Jeff Bezos in hipwaders.
The main reason Amazon is located in Seattle is simple.
It's workers can bathe themselves in the rugged outdoor ethos of Seattle (mountains, lakes, Puget Sound) without ever having to be more than 25 feet from the nearest Starbucks.
Locating an Amazon headquarters in Ketchikan would require about 1,316 more Starbucks. Certainly doable, but not necessarily imaginable. The city would positively reek of Blonde Pumpkin Spice Latte. It would be the new "Smell of Money."
We would no longer be the rugged outdoor "frontier" community that we all love.
Speaking of which, why is it only the outdoors that is "rugged?" I have known some indoor locales - particularly in Ketchikan - that are certainly just as rugged.
Second, the company seeks a "major international airport/traffic hub."
Well, okay, we got the "international airport" but we're probably not up there with O'Hare or LAX. Once again, not a bad thing.
Our TSA lines are much smaller and I'm pretty sure that O'Hare and LAX TSA agents do not sing cheerful songs or provide snacks to travelers on holidays.
But we are simply not a transportation hub unless you are hubbing your way to Hollis. Or Metlakatla.
Third, they want an "educated work force" with particular emphasis on "tech ed."
Interestingly enough the accoster and I were in the very same grocery store that rankled a few feathers a few years back when its regional spokesman was quoted as saying that the reason the local store in Ketchikan has poor customer service was because the local applicant pool was "weak."
Natch, the company walked back that statement later, but it is never good when a company implies that "stupid is as stupid does" applies to the local labor force.
Okay, I realize that all that negativity that I just let out is squashing the dreams of the accoster who simply wants to" boost the local economy."
But has he even considered what it would be like to add 50,000 people to Ketchikan? That's just slightly more than the average number of passengers on the post-post-post Panamax ships that will start coming next summer.
You've heard about those ships. They have go carts, they have paintball parks, they have golf courses, they have one Starbucks for every two passengers.
They a huge-amongus.
They are so big that the bow is already in Ketchikan before the stern has left the Port of Seattle dock. They actually don't cost much money to operate because the passengers spend three days walking from the back to the front and then get off in Ketchikan.
While the visitors are taking local tours, the ship is repositioned so that it's bow is in Juneau and its stern is in Ketchikan. So while some part of the ship may be physically present in Ketchikan for most of the summer, the passengers aren't.
That's what worries me about the 50,000 Amazon workers who would relocate to Ketchikan. They won't leave at 3 pm. They will be here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That is a lot of Starbucks coffee to process.
We will spend hundreds of millions of dollars just upgrading the waste water treatment system to meet that outflow.
Once upon a time, I surmised that Revillagigedo Island is just large enough to hold all 6 billion people on earth, but only if they are all standing up. So we could add 50,000 people if we wanted to and everyone would still be able to lie down. But even adding a mere 50,000 would appreciably change the average six minute Ketchikan work commute. I hazard a guess that it would even double it.
Perhaps the biggest road block to the plan to integrate 50,000 well paid workers into the Ketchikan economy, is the fact that the big cities involved in the bidding war are all promising scads and scads and scads of "incentives" to encourage Amazon to choose them (pick me, pick me, pick me!!!).
Things like tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, land for development, free mountain bikes, special personalized Starbucks mugs, etc.
How could we possibly compete with that, I asked the accoster.
"We have the absolute best smoked salmon in the entire world," he responded.
Can't argue with that.
So, 50,000 cases of smoked salmon.
Coming right up.
Welcome to Ketchikan, Mr. Bezos.
On the Web:
Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Kiffer ©2018