In the battle royale to land Amazon’s new headquarters, Austin has played things relatively cool, at least compared to some of the slavering competition. The city was fairly terse about what was included in its initial bid, submitted through the Austin Chamber of Commerce, but it did not include any incentives from the city, and Mayor Steve Adler expressed concerns about whether or not the city could easily absorb the workers HQ2 would bring to the area. Others, including national prognosticators, pointed to Austin’s abysmal public transit system and lack of an obvious central location for the headquarters as factors that could lead to rejection of the city for the new HQ.
Nevertheless, Austin did indeed make the final cut of 20 cities Amazon recently announced it is still considering, and, according to Adler, the city is now ready for a “serious conversation” with the Internet giant.
In an interview with local NPR station KUT’s Jennifer Stayton Tuesday, Adler spoke to the City Council’s current philosophies regarding economic incentives, saying that it is focused on the city’s “biggest challenges and needs”—affordability and mobility, rather that economic development for its own sake—and that conversation about “any big company coming to our city is how can that economic development help us answer the challenges of affordability and mobility.”
There’s potential for the city to use “companies like that, their scale or their power, in a way that might enable us to achieve solutions or answers that might otherwise escape us or escape us in any reasonable timing,” he said. “So if Amazon wants to come here, our hope is that they would engage in a conversation about how they could be part of our community in a way that helped us solve, not exacerbate, our challenges.”
That will no doubt come as good news (or at least not bad news) to the sizeable number of Austinites who fear what kind of impact HQ2 would have on the city, which is already burdened by the wages of rapid growth, spurred largely by the tech industry.
In the interview, Stayton pointed out that the 50,000 jobs that Amazon predicts will come with its new headquarters aren’t an urgent need for Austin and asked why an average Austinite would want a company that would likely create more problems than they might solve. Adler answered that the city wouldn’t want them here if that’s the case, but also pointed out that Austin has low unemployment at the upper and lower end of the wage scale, but that the city doesn’t necessarily have the “middle-skilled” jobs that Amazon might offer.
“[N]othing’s going to happen unless it works for everybody,” he told Stayton. “My hope would be that Amazon ultimately, if it was going to move into a community, would invite and want to be part of really deliberate and serious and real conversations, and that’s what we’ve opened the door for.”