Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Put Away the Whipsaw the Amazon Bid Frenzy Shows Need for Control

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Put Away the Whipsaw the Amazon Bid Frenzy Shows Need for Control

Article excerpt

It's unlikely that the 20 cities still competing for Amazon's second headquarters will soften their courtship of a company that's dangling a $5 billion investment and the possibility of 50,000 jobs. However, urban affairs expert Richard Florida's call for the 20 to sign a "non-aggression pact" - to refrain from trying to one-up each other with financial incentives - is a worthy suggestion in an age when big business repeatedly bullies, extorts and whipsaws local governments.

Mr. Florida, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor now at the University of Toronto, has started a petition drive on change.org with the hope of heading off the bidding war. The petition says financial incentives often are not as important as other factors in a company's decision about where to put down roots and siphon resources that could be used to meet a city's other needs.

The 20 finalists for Amazon's HQ2, a distinguished list that includes Pittsburgh, aren't rushing to sign the non-aggression pact. But it would be good for taxpayers and cities everywhere if elected officials heeded Mr. Florida's point and broke the cycle of whipsawing.

Professional sports teams are frequent culprits, threatening to sell or relocate franchises if taxpayers don't pony up for new or renovated stadiums. As far back as 2003, Mario Lemieux threatened to move the Penguins without construction of a replacement for the aging Civic Arena and flirted with other cities, such as Kansas City and Las Vegas, that urgently wanted professional hockey cachet.

In 2007, after the deal to build what's now PPG Paints Arena, Mr. Lemieux told a hockey-night crowd that "your Pittsburgh Penguins will remain right here in Pittsburgh, where they belong." One wonders how serious he ever was about moving them in the first place.

Businesses pit cities against each other in the same way, though rarely do municipal governments play the role of suitor as ardently as so many have with Amazon. Last fall, 238 cities and regions submitted bids for Amazon's HQ2, and the 20 finalists were announced last month. …

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