Come or Go, Amazon’s HQ Decision Means Little to Michigan Economy

It’s a magnet for agenda-driven interpretation though

Rock Ventures founder and chairman Dan Gilbert made a valid observation in response to Amazon’s decision to exclude Detroit and other Michigan bids from its short list of cities contending for its HQ2 project: “The fact is, nobody outside of Amazon knows exactly all of the factors that went into this complicated decision.”

Yet media voices are happy to tell us exactly what’s needed here to win a project like Amazon. Phil Power at Bridge Magazine says it’s more college preparation. Nancy Kaffer at the Detroit Free Press added more taxpayer-financed transit to the list. Charlie LeDuff at Deadline Detroit says less crime. Others point the finger at a nebulous inability to attract talent, whatever that means. Daniel Howes at The Detroit News agrees and says Detroit’s reputation for “decline and dysfunction” also contributed.

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But Gilbert’s point is right: Only those on Amazon’s team really know. So this is weak evidence to support any individual’s favored policy agenda.

Amazon’s choice doesn’t really matter though: Despite all the hype, one company is not enough to change one state’s fortunes, or even those of whatever city lands the project. Sure, it’s a big project, but it’s still tiny compared to the regular ongoing job creation that is a routine part of the dynamic Michigan economy.

Even if Amazon’s pledge to create 50,000 jobs comes true, it would be just 23 percent of the new jobs created in Michigan every three months. And all those new jobs appear with no government officials offering to spend extraordinary amounts of tax dollars to subsidize them.

There are good reasons to want better schools, less crime or a good business climate. How to get them is always worth talking about.

But Amazon’s actions offer little guidance for how to help Michigan thrive. The state’s success does not hang on hype. Business decisions will instead be based on real data. The data is telling a good story right now. It could be better one, no doubt, but things are moving in the right direction already: Jobs are being created and incomes are rising in metro Detroit. With a strong economic backdrop and progress that has been made to improve public policy, this is likely to continue with or without flashy projects like a second Amazon headquarters.

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