Op-Ed: Gatsas Input On Amazon HQ2 Proposal A Valid Exercise

In our current economic climate, the need for greater economic growth is ever-present. While New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is close to record lows, it is the quality of those jobs that are now the issue. Low-paying retail and service jobs, usually the mainstay of high school student employment, are now going unfilled. The problem is either that there are simply too-few students to take these jobs or perhaps many students are choosing not to work at all. For working adults, the wages earned from such jobs will barely support a family, and were never intended to. What NH is lacking now is higher paying jobs. Anyone who travels Route 3 or Route 93 on any given morning will see the endless stream of cars heading into Massachusetts for work. What we need are the same jobs found in our southern neighbor to staunch the daily outflow of workers and instead keep them in our state.

What our state needs now is an economic engine that spins off greater amounts of high-paying jobs than the service sector jobs that support them. To this end, imagine the Pavlovian salivating that must’ve occurred in state legislatures across the country when Amazon recently announced that they were looking to build a second corporate headquarters. It has been quite some time since there has been a ‘whale’ of economic development like this to come down the pike. For local officials in any municipality to disregard this Request For Proposal (RFP) from Amazon is to ignore the massive economic engine that Amazon has become and the limitless opportunities that landing such a project would bring to a region. To not bid on this project is tantamount to a dereliction of duty.

It is against this backdrop that both Mayor Gatsas and Governor Sununu have contributed to prepared proposals that attempt to capture the Amazon HQ2 project. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions and high hopes, their efforts will fail. This impending failure has nothing to do with the quality of the proposal but rather the clash of the proposal’s optimism against the hard reality of a lack of resources available in Manchester and surrounding area and to a greater extent the State of New Hampshire.

Was the exercise of preparing the proposal a fool’s errand? We don’t believe so.

In fact, it is the proposal’s failure and hopefully the lessons learned from it that NH can now emerge from the process with a blueprint to addressing our shortcomings and fix them before the next Amazon-like proposal.

The Amazon project will need, according to the RFP, the following requirements:

A Highly Educated Workforce: Since Amazon has grown into a technology company that does far more than simply sell items online, jobs that require advanced degrees will be in abundance.  Jobs in computer science, manufacturing, robotics, facilities engineering and logistics, just to name a few, will need to be filled. At present, we do not have the sufficient educational facilities to provide the breadth and depth of topics they require, nor are they in large enough numbers to fill even a simple majority of these positions. Even if every STEM student currently enrolled in all of our colleges was immediately employed by Amazon upon graduation, a majority of these technical jobs would go unfilled and would require the import of labor. We need to figure out how to scale our educational institutions to meet even a fraction of this demand rather than require an assist from the Boston area. While the proposal includes such august educational institutions such as Harvard and MIT, the reality that those students would commute or relocate to NH at this time should not be considered a viable solution.

A Highly Mobile Transportation System: With the possibility of close to 50K new workers being employed by the new HQ, a vast majority of these new employees will have to commute to the new location. Do we have in place the transportation infrastructure to handle even twenty thousand car trips every morning and evening? Are there any mass transportation plans to handle such an increase that can be implemented on short notice? Do we have any long term transportation goals? Are there alternative modes of transport that are viable? What kind of funding would be available for any of these projects? While the State of NH does have a long-term plan for highway projects, it may be lacking a plan for the abrupt and increased growth that an Amazon would inject into the area.

Affordable Workforce Housing: With an already tight housing market in and around the area that has been proposed in Derry, there will be a tremendous need to adequately zone, approve, and build affordable workforce housing. The lead times on just municipal approval activities alone with wide acceptance can still run anywhere from 4-6 months with multiple hearings and active participation from various planning departments. Do we have a way to streamline the process to get approvals through quicker? What kind of funding will be required for these projects? Is that funding currently available? Do we have enough tradesmen to handle all the work? Are our schools effectively teaching the trades early enough to students to make this a viable employment option?

These are but a few of the major areas that need to be addressed if we in New Hampshire are to move our economy forward into various other industries. While we may not be able to land a $5B project with immense follow-on economic activity the likes we have never seen, this does not mean we should not prepare for the next ‘whale’ to appear. Our state would benefit greatly from having ten $100M companies in diversified fields dispersed throughout the state rather than one large, $1B-$5B company that creates massive upheaval and that is detrimental to the NH way of life.

-FABM

To view a statement by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce as well as the complete Amazon HQ2, click here.