Your Town Sucks.
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Your Town Sucks.

Guess what? Amazon isn't coming to your city. Yeah, there will be a relatively few lucky souls that will celebrate the massive influx of jobs and investment and, of course, we all wish you our sincere congratulations. But, probably not gonna be you. So sorry, now get over it.
 
Attracting jobs and businesses  mayors tell us this is their number one priority when it comes to their communities, and over the past year or so cities have been literally throwing themselves at Bezos and Co., offering billions of incentives and engaging the type of civic chest thumping and crass boosterism that would make the late P.T. Barnum cringe. But really, how much do these "business decisions" rest on the tangibles that urban planners, economic development officers, relocation consultants tout incentives, quality of workforce, transportation, housing mix, education?
 
As this fascinating article tells us, it's the whims of a CEO or senior leadership. In the case of Amazon and many others, it's simply where do employees, current and future, want to live? Bottom line this is now all about the talent and giving them a place they'd call home.
  
So you're somewhere that isn't getting HQ2  what's your next move? You probably have a few smart people and decent infrastructure, but what tips the scale in favor of your city? I'd argue its the things that make a "there there" in your city. Independent businesses, a mix of entertainment options, vibrant streetscapes and walkability, and of course a cool mix of trails, parks and public places. And I believe these are the attributes that city leaders in and out of government can do most to quickly change.
 
If your education system sucks, you can't turn it around in a year, much less five or even 20 years. If you don't have transit, you can't build out a viable connected network without billions of dollars and decades of time. You can however, among other things, make significant infrastructure investments in parks and trails in relatively short order that signal to talent that you are a place that takes fun and place seriously.  
 
So how about in the wake of your region's Amazon obsession, kick off a Quality of Life Coalition. Bring in some artists, some planners, parkies and dreamers. Bring in the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber Orchestra. Then ask the Quality of Life Coalition to take a step back and examine how you are going to foster a sense of place to get that or grow that magical "there there." Make those park and trail investments. Do 10 percent for arts rather than one percent. Line those streetscapes with mature trees. Say yes to the crazy festival planner. Incentivize and capitalize the small business loans to hungry, funky entrepreneurs.
 
Your Quality of Life Coalition is charged with ensuring you're well positioned, not for Amazon, but for the 20-something who is right now at a coffee shop or library noodling over a nagging great idea that she just can't let go of. She's your economic development strategy. Tell her your community is ready to nurture her, her ideas, her future family and her future workforce  make sure you have a "there there." For the 350 plus communities who aren't finalists for HQ2, wouldn't you rather the next Amazon be created right in your back yard?
 
Kevin O'Hara
Vice President of Urban and Government Affairs
 
 
P.S. Want to continue this conversation with some other smart folks inside and outside parks and rec? Join us May 16-18 for the next NRPA Innovation Lab in Oklahoma City, where in response to losing a major corporate relocation in the 1990s, the public sector and private sector teamed up to create a "there there" in OKC. Come see for yourself
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NRPA, in collaboration with the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department, are bringing together leaders inside and outside of parks and recreation to explore how our field makes an impact on regional economic competitiveness and quality of life. We know parks contribute significantly, but how does the private sector see us, and what tools and funding is out there to help ensure that our parks and recreational opportunities continue to drive economic development and attract, businesses, talent and visitors?
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