Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 with its 50,000 jobs paying about $100,000 each is one heck of a prize, so the competition is going to be intense. But unless we find a way to work together, the bid will showcase this region’s greatest weakness: Our inability to play nice with our neighbors.
Amazon made it clear they want one bid per region. So far we’ve seen leaders touting St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles, St. Clair County, Madison County, East St. Louis, Edwardsville and Pontoon Beach.
United we stand, divided we fall, and our record is all about division. North St. Louis separated from South St. Louis. St. Louis City separated from St. Louis County. Missouri separated from Illinois by so much more than a river. Above the bluffs separated from below the bluffs. Madison County separated from St. Clair County.
Even when we physically build bridges we get into parochial spats that nearly derailed the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
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So it is good to hear St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern is cooperating with the St. Louis bid, but what about Madison County? Are the Missouri leaders approaching our role in this HQ2 bid as partners or as supportive neighbors?
Illinois brings more than 500,000 people and thousands of acres of undeveloped land with major rail, interstate, river and an underused airport to this bid. We’ve got mass transit stretching to just shy of that airport. We already have two massive Amazon fulfillment centers. We have a workforce educated at three local universities and two community colleges, as well as well-trained service members regularly separating from service and seeking jobs.
If you want to fulfill a corporate service mission, how about single-handedly transforming what in 1959 was an All-American City but is now a poverty-ridden center for murder and drugs with one-third of its former population? Work together to put HQ2 in East St. Louis and you have a powerful mission of change.
A New York Times columnist recently handicapped the St. Louis region as has having a solid chance at HQ2, in large part because of the potential for re-engineering a declining area with social strife in addition to mass transit and highway and airport considerations.
Good chances could be great chances if the region works against its nature and cooperates to make this a win no matter where the HQ2 buildings actually go.