Two hundred and thirty-two metro areas across North America applied to be the home of the second Amazon headquarters – and somewhere in that pile of applications in Seattle is a joint submission by Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem.
Though the chance of Amazon coming here is roughly the same as the chance of winning the Powerball without buying a ticket, area economic development officials at the Thursday, Oct. 26 Guilford County Economic Development Alliance (GCEDA) meeting said there were some other very good reasons to apply besides the admittedly slim chance of winning Amazon over.
Local leaders and economic development officials at the meeting said the Amazon bid served two other purposes. One is that it helps Greensboro and High Point get in the practice of working closely with Winston-Salem on luring major projects to the region; and, two, it’s a way to help this area become known as a great location for corporate offices. People often consider Guilford County for aviation, furniture and advanced manufacturing projects, but in recent years at least, the county doesn’t have much of a reputation as a home for major corporate offices.
GCEDA members also said the Amazon application should help lay the groundwork for Greensboro and High Point working with Winston-Salem in hopes of landing more major projects that are looking to locate in a high-population metro area.
At the Oct. 26 meeting, Loren Hill, the president of the High Point Economic Development Corp. (HPEDC), explained the rationale.
“Who knows what the company will do, but this is even more than for Amazon,” Hill said. “This was a great effort for us to work together to let folks know we’re a great place for an office project, whether it’s Amazon or someone else.”
Hill also hinted there could be a true union in regional efforts eventually.
“It may be a precursor to having Winston work with us even more closely and more often – and perhaps even officially someday,” Hill said.
For years, decades even, area economic development officials have been talking about a need for a greater “regional” effort that involves all three population centers working together.
In this latest effort to get Amazon’s “HQ2” project, the three cities made a 38-second video with the theme, “We are the Prime Location for HQ2.”
That’s meant to be a clever play on words because “Amazon Prime” is a well known $99 service offered by Amazon that includes free two-day shipping, streaming music and movies and other benefits.
At the Oct. 26 meeting, High Point Mayor Bill Bencini pointed out that Sandy Dunbeck, the executive vice president of the HPEDC, was enjoying a glass of wine in the video.
“It was after 5 and it was a nighttime shot,” Dunbeck said.
Hill said a great deal of work went into the short video. He said it was amazing how many takes were needed for various scenes. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she thought she did her line 12 times for the camera.
Hill pointed out that Winston-Salem Journal reporter Richard Craver calls the Amazon pursuit “the largest collaborative effort ever of the Triad over economic development.”
“Well, that’s probably not wrong,” Hill added. “At least it was the biggest effort of our three groups working together.”
Hill also said that, at times when Guilford County is trying to land a big project, and there’s a prospect in town, a representative from Winston-Salem will join the recruiters and the clients for dinner for a discussion about the region as a whole.
“We have been working very well with them,” Hill said of Winston-Salem, “but this took it to a whole new level.”
Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen said one part of the effort was putting Guilford County on the radar for people looking to open a new office somewhere.
“Our hope was to get the attention of the company,” he said of Amazon. “We hope that we were successful in that; we know we got some attention from the media. We were mentioned in The Seattle Times specifically. One of the things we wanted to get out of this, long term, was being able to brand our communities as good locations for office projects.”
Christensen said it surprises him that the Greensboro-High Point area doesn’t get thought of much nationally as a place to open office space.
“I don’t believe we get as many office looks as we should,” he said at the GCEDA meeting, held at Guilford Technical Community College’s Donald W. Cameron Campus in Colfax.
Guilford County’s pitch to Amazon centered around the fact that the employees can live in a variety of locales in the triad – a horse farm, a downtown loft or a suburban community, for instance. It also emphasized the abundance of universities in the area.
The video the county sent Amazon can be reformed for other projects. Christensen called it a “Swiss army knife” video.
“We had the people deliver different lines as well, so we could utilize that footage so it’s not specific to Amazon,” Christensen said.
For instance, videographers had the three mayors say, ‘You can make it here,’ which is being used as a tagline to help brand this community.
“So we can turn that video into something that’s for a general purpose use,” Christensen told the group. “We were thinking ahead.”
Like Hill, Christensen said the effort can help bring GCEDA and Winston-Salem closer.
“It’s more than for just this project,” he said. “It’s to help these cities get together – and continue working together.”
It’s interesting that GCEDA is talking about possibly expanding one day when at its last meeting – in August – there was a suggestion the group might break up. The September meeting last month was canceled, partly because tensions were so high between Guilford County and High Point. In fact, in one way, the big story at the GCEDA meeting was what didn’t happen there: Namely, High Point and Guilford County didn’t get into a spat.
At the last GCEDA meeting – held in late August – High Point Mayor Bill Bencini and Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips had an uncomfortable exchange that was unlike anything the jovial and friendly GCEDA board had ever seen before. Bencini called the commissioners out for not backing financially a High Point downtown stadium project and said that, if the county did not get on board, High Point would be forced to ask “uncomfortable questions” such as, “Why are we here? Why are we involved in the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance?”
Despite that battle that continues to rage on, everyone at this GCEDA meeting was all smiles and the talk was about expanding efforts regionally rather than breaking up the alliance.