Raimondo Administration Refuses to Answer Questions About Amazon HQ2 Effort

Tuesday, September 12, 2017
GoLocalProv News Team

Stefan Pryor's office refuses to answer questions
Rhode Island is falling behind in the effort to win the greatest economic development prize in history — Amazon’s second headquarters, aka, #HQ2.

While other states are building coalitions, launching hashtags to connect stakeholders and build momentum, the administration of Gina Raimondo seems to be quickly falling behind and refusing to answer any questions about the state's efforts.

Neither the Governor’s office nor Rhode Island Commerce could answer basic questions about the economic development equivalent of a PowerBall jackpot.

The city that wins Amazon’s second headquarters will realize massive economic disruption including 50,000 new jobs, billions in investments, and an economic boon that few cities realize outside of a gold rush.

With 700 retail employees losing their jobs with Friday’s announcement of the closure of the iconic Benny’s chain, one might think the Raimondo administration would be in full motion, but Providence has not made any of the early lists and there is little indication that Rhode Island has any plan, appointed leadership or communication strategy. 

Going for Gold - Or Not

When you are competing for the business of Jeff Bezos who is quoted as saying, “One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out," you better have an innovative campaign. With Rhode Island’s economy locked annually as one of the worst places to do business, you might think the Raimondo administration would work to bust out of the status quo.

In response to eleven questions submitted to the Governor’s office and Commerce, GoLocal was told that Commerce would handle the communications. Commerce did not respond to the questions submitted.

“Our team is working on the strategy for on the strategy for the RFP response,” wrote Matt Sheaff, spokesperson for Stefan Pryor in an text message five days after the initial request.

Now, days after Amazon’s announcement business press has been writing non-stop. The New York Times wrote a lengthy analysis titled, "Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for You." It was just one of many business press analyses and short lists created.

Will Raimondo's team get a viable effort together?

Questions submitted by GoLocal to included:

1) Will there be a chair appointed of the effort?
2) Will an outside consultant be brought in to staff this?
3) Will a board of community leaders be brought together?
4) Most cities have already branded their efforts and created a # -- where is the administration on this?
5) Is there a budget?
6) Will the state have a public portal? When?
7) Who will be the spokesperson?
8) Is Rhode Island really serious about going after it? No press conference yesterday, no press release, seemed super disorganized?
9) Why has RI not reached out to the business press - everyone from Bloomberg to Forbes already has short lists and reporters at those places say they have not heard from Providence.
10) Major influencers like Richard Florida is already blitzing away - Providence is not on his list.  Is there a strategy here?
11) Is this going to be a public process or the usual?

The Raimondo may have missed the opportunity to jump on 2017's ultimate game changer.

“What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you – what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind – you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy,” said Bezos.

  • Uber and Airbnb CEOs Claim RI Pedigrees

    Uber and Airbnb are arguably two of the most disruptive and innovative companies in the United States and both of their leaders are Providence educated.

    RI ranks as the third worst state for retaining its college grads.  According to AOL Finance, nearly 70 percent of Rhode Island college grads leave the state.

    We produce the smart kids. Amazon would keep them here and bring more in.

    Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is a 1991 Brown grad and Airbnb’s CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky is a RISD grad. 

    Chesky earned a Bachelor's of Fine Arts from RISD in Industrial Design in 2004.

  • Raimondo is Good at Giving Away Money to Out-of-State Companies

    Amazon will make its selection based on a number of factors, but the number one factor will be who puts the best deal on the table.

    Governor Gina Raimondo has given out hundreds of millions of dollars to a sweeping array of companies - Wexford, Virgin, GE, and Johnson & Johnson.

    Wexford is still stalled and GE's jobs may be at risk as the company is looking to implement major cost saving measures. 

  • We Have Space

    There are not many cities that could host a campus inside the city that could house 50,000 workers, but Providence, with a little creativity, might be able to pull it off.

    Between the Superman building, 195 land parcels (and toss in all of Kennedy Plaza) - there is space. Superman can house upwards of 3,000 employees and 195 has 26.41 acres of available land and 6,367,264 square footage.

    Who would have thought that our inability to get anything done could turn into a competitive advantage?

  • Location, Location, Location

    Providence is perfectly located to be able to reach more than 55 million people in the Northeast -- and with Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods, there is a greater strategic importance here. 

    Amazon has added 900 high paying tech jobs in Boston and 1,800 in warehousing and logisitics jobs in Fall River, but Boston cannot provide the space and Fall River cannot provide the educated work force.  

    Enter Providence. 

  • Transportation Infrastructure

    The growth of T.F. Green and the addition of nearly 20 direct flights, including international flights is a game changer. A year ago, Green offered 17 direct flights and now it is 35.

    Providence's proximity to I-95, I-195, and I-295 gives ground access to the region. In comparison to cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore -- Providence-metro area congestion pales in comparison. 

    Quonset and the Port of Providence add additional infrastructure resources. Planes, trains, automobiles (and boats) -- Providence is well situated, and accessible.  See the next slide. 

  • Boston, a Suburb of Providence

    For years, economists have talked about Providence's economy being tied to Boston's success. But, Boston is jammed packed, expensive, and nearly at construction capacity.

    Boston has one of the five lowest commercial office space rates in America. Hard to see how Boston could add 50,000 workers. 

    Conversely, tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders - many of the most skilled in the state - are traveling daily to Boston for their jobs and to benefit from the higher pay.

    Amazon's HQ2 would transform Providence and create a much more peer and inter-related regional business powerhouse.

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