4 Key Questions To Ask Jeff Bezos

4 Key Questions To Ask Jeff Bezos

March 4th, 2019

by Ian Smith

On February 14th, 2019, Amazon published a post on their blog announcing that the online retail giant will not be going through with its decision to put one of its new headquarters in Long Island, New York.  The news was a surprise since on the surface, it appears that Amazon caved underneath the pressure from those who opposed the deal.  Cynical individuals like myself thinks that there is more to the decision to not to go to New York.  One will never know the real reason until someone has the chance to talk to CEO, Jeff Bezos, to probe his mindset regarding the reversal.

If I had the chance to sit down with Mr. Bezos, here are my four questions that I would like him to address.

1) If the initial project received so much criticism and resistance, did you attempt any type of stakeholder engagement strategies and to what degree?

From outspoken politicians to the layman living in Long Island where Amazon was going to set up shop, citizens were vehemently against the initiative that was going to bring 25,000 to 40,000 jobs to the area.  Knowing that this would be a potential roadblock for Amazon, Bezos should have been proactive in terms of dealing with citizens concerns.  There are time-tested stakeholder engagement strategies that the public and private sectors use to discover solutions to allow initiatives to progress by addressing stakeholders’ issues.

One has to wonder if Amazon planned on addressing key issues that citizens had just before any shovels were put into the ground.  Keep in mind that the retailer was able to avoid the public consultation process when it came to rezoning issues of the site for the new headquarters.

2) Did the talk of Amazon receiving billions of dollars in financial incentives play any role in the decision of cancelling plans for New York?

The biggest criticism of Amazon during the process of selecting cities and location for its headquarters is the dollar amount of financial incentives that were on the table.  The state and municipal governments were prepared to offer Amazon $3 billions (specifically, $2.5 billion in tax credits and $500 million in state construction subsidies).  As a result, would the Amazon brand name be able to withstand the criticism by politicians and citizens knowing that the company did not need the incentives? 

3) What has surprised you the most regarding the feedback in terms of going with New York?

Since the initiative announcement in November 2018, Amazon has received a great deal of feedback regarding selecting Long Island.  Some of the feedback which may have surprised Bezos could have been:
  • The strong opposition from the local political leaders
  • The amount of negative media coverage slamming Amazon considering the jobs that were to be created
  • The opposition from the citizens on social media (as seen in Figure 1)

Figure 1: One of many tweets criticizing Amazon regarding financial incentives

 4) Would you change anything regarding the approach of selecting a city and location for the headquarters?

From an economic development perspective, Amazon’s headquarters location selection process was pretty wild but, in the end, it did not amount to much.   The process had large and small cities submitting their offers with the hopes of Amazon picking their town.  One has to wonder if Amazon regrets making this process public in terms of having full-blown press coverage on national and local levels. 

Instead of welcoming bids from across North America, Amazon may have benefited from a smaller list of cities that were vetted rigorously to screen for possible impediments to the retailer’s expansion plans.   Then again, the open invitation process that was used could have been a wide-ranging publicity stun.

Modifying expansion plans in terms of changing locations is nothing new from an economic development perspective.  What is so alarming when it comes to Amazon and its decision to go to Long Island is the inability to anticipate and mitigate citizens’ issues to ensure that the project met all stakeholders’ expectations. 

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