When Amazon considers New Jersey, it will already find talent, location, and play.
Amazon should choose New Jersey for its vaunted HQ2. In the end, we won’t offer the biggest package of incentives or the lowest cost of doing business. But Amazon should (and likely will) come for three reasons: talent, location, and play.
More than 500,000 of the planet’s smartest tech professionals already live in our region. We are blessed with the richest collection of educated immigrants and their offspring: remarkably successfully people who have made this state exceptionally rich, resilient, and sticky. These talented professionals — along with our homegrown talent, educated in some of the nation’s best K-12 schools and universities — will help Amazon continue to grow and transform new industries.
What’s more: East Coast talent is simply more loyal and less likely to change jobs every one-to-two years for the next best offer — and that’s a refreshing bonus for West Coast tech giants.
We already offer quick access to New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. via public transportation. Soon, smart-city innovations and ridesharing will make access throughout our state and region even easier. Furthermore, our collective resiliency, particularly after Sandy, ensure that we and our infrastructure are better prepared than most states for future storms.
With access to four international airports, we offer uniquely direct connections to the rest of the planet. All this accessibility saves time, today’s most valuable commodity, especially for the tens of thousands of well-paid, educated workers Amazon’s new headquarters will employ.
Of course, Amazon already has a huge footprint in New Jersey, from its sprawling warehouses to the headquarters of Audible, Amazon’s pioneering, exceptionally successful subsidiary. (I expect Audible founder and CEO Don Katz to be our greatest advocate to Jeff Bezos, but alumni and friends from his alma mater, Princeton University, will be telling New Jersey’s story, too.)
Whether Amazon chooses a city, a suburban area, or a combination of both, the state offers abundant housing in all price ranges. And our suburbs are again becoming a key strength, with migration taking off as millennials raise kids and want more space to spread out, walk their dogs, and enjoy long runs and bike rides. Which brings us to…
With all the culture and nature throughout the region, Amazon workers will have the best of all worlds. They’ll enjoy easy access to the nation’s — and world’s — great cities, with a multitude of wonderful opportunities for intellectual stimulation, experience, and enrichment. They’ll appreciate our tremendous natural diversity, the opportunities our beautiful mountains, plains, and beaches provide to disconnect, recharge, and revitalize. And they will especially appreciate our human diversity, how this state and region embraces all who come here. Our robust technology community will engage them across the state at hubs and hot spots the Tech Council continues to nurture (Jersey Tech Week in the fall and Jersey Innovation Week in the spring highlight the dynamic energy of our communities).
Making New Jersey even better
When Amazon considers New Jersey, it will already find talent, location, and play. Beyond additional financial incentives, how can we make New Jersey even more attractive to them — and to all other technology companies seeking a great place to grow?
Next to our people and educational systems, infrastructure may be our greatest asset. Working with the federal government, we need to revitalize it for the next generation. We need to be aggressive — indeed visionary — in making large infrastructure investments that will pay enormous dividends in the short and long term.
New Jersey also needs to act as a platform for incubating and scaling new technologies. If we commit to it, there’s no reason why we can’t become the East Coast hotbed of innovation for autonomous vehicles, drones, smart cities, and the Internet of Things.
Continued investments in K-16 are needed, to add seats at universities and prevent a brain drain, and to ensure that robust research initiatives continue, many of them supported by federal grants. Of course, our K-12 schools need more resources to remain top-of-class in the nation and provide a robust pipeline of skilled workers for all types of jobs.
With the right leadership, we can extend New Jersey’s advantage as the preferred location of technology and life-science companies. Let’s welcome Amazon, but let’s also look beyond one big fish to the entire technology ecosystem. Let’s attract Amazon, but let’s also position ourselves to attract the next Amazon, and the all-important small-to-mid-size growth companies that are our most vital job creators.
James C. Barrood is the President and CEO of the NJ Tech Council.