Here’s what the critics have to say about Tampa Bay:
Not a snark, not a critique, not a peep.
The websites, magazines, Realtors and bankers who have been breathlessly handicapping the Amazon headquarters sweepstakes haven’t even bothered to insult Tampa Bay. Apparently, we are that inconsequential. If this were Casablanca, we would be Peter Lorre to Amazon’s Humphrey Bogart.
"You despise me, don’t you?’’ Lorre asks.
"If I gave you any thought, I probably would,’’ Bogart replies.
And, yes, Tampa Bay was always going to be a long shot to be the home of Amazon’s second headquarters, dubbed HQ2. For the record, 238 cities submitted bids, making the odds steep for any market.
Moody’s Analytics mentions Austin, Texas; Atlanta and Philadelphia in its top tier of contenders. The New York Times had Denver; Portland, Ore.; and Boston on the short list. Inc. magazine talked about Raleigh, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; and Detroit. Business Insider included Cincinnati, Memphis and Nashville. CNN Tech chose Pittsburgh, Toronto and Dallas in its top eight.
Others touted New York, Chicago and Orange County in California. If you’re a gambler, you could place bets of 16-to-1 on Rochester, N.Y., or 100-to-1 on Halifax, Nova Scotia, with oddsmakers. But if you want to bet on Tampa Bay, apparently you need a bookie with an atlas.
So, is this a public relations disaster? Of course not. Nobody thought Tampa Bay would be a serious contender, so it’s hard to take anyone’s indifference as a slight.
But shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why?
Why is such a large market — with more than 3 million people we are one of the top 20 metropolitan statistical areas — seemingly an afterthought when it comes to major business expansion?
We’ve got a world-class airport. Cost of living is relatively low. The state has a business-friendly governor and Legislature. We certainly excel in quality-of-life categories such as weather and beaches.
Perhaps the answer is we’ve never invested in ourselves.
Tampa Bay trails virtually every similar-sized market when it comes to mass transportation, and funding for public education in Florida is near the bottom of the nation. Cities with close access to nationally recognized tech universities also seem to do well in these market critiques.
Those seem like kind of important topics, don’t they?
And so it makes sense if corporations prefer markets with an emphasis on necessities instead of amenities.
Jason Horwitz is an analyst at the Anderson Economic Group and recently co-authored an index paper based on some of the measurable preferences Amazon is seeking. Tampa Bay ranked 27th of the 35 markets that the index determined fit Amazon’s criteria.
"It’s not that Tampa does terribly in a lot of those categories, it’s just a little below average,’’ he said. "The lack of public transit infrastructure is one of the big problems. People in Florida drive everywhere, and Amazon specifically mentioned having public transportation.
"Amazon hasn’t specifically said this, but it’s reasonable to think they’re looking for a market that will attract the best talent in the world for the next 40 to 50 years.’’
Sounds like the kind of place anyone would want to live. Perhaps Tampa Bay might want to consider that.