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Amazon puts Rochester on Rejected Suitors list 

Well, poop.

I didn’t think there was a bat’s chance that Amazon would put its second headquarters in Rochester (in the Rochester-Buffalo region, to be exact). But you couldn't help imagining the effect it would have.

If you've been to Seattle recently, you know what I mean. Amazon is literally swallowing part of downtown Seattle. Block after block of it, replacing low-rise buildings with tower after tower. And Seattle was already a booming metropolis. With lots of people.
click to enlarge Part of Amazon's still-expanding headquarters in downtown Seattle. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Part of Amazon's still-expanding headquarters in downtown Seattle.

When our son was looking for a new job and a new city a few years ago, he checked out Seattle. And chose it. Because, he said, you could literally feel the vibe as you walked around the city.

That, I think, is what Bezos is looking for. Some cities have it. Some don't. We don't.

This doesn't mean that we have to have it. Or that we even want to have it. It's the vibe of a young, tech-oriented, rapidly transforming city. And there's plenty of downside to that transformation, rapidly rising housing prices among the most serious.

But clearly many local leaders did want us to have Amazon. And so they put in a bid for it. And Jeff Bezos turned us down.

Here's who made the cut: Atlanta; Austin; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville; Newark; New York; Northern Virginia; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, North Carolina; Toronto; and Washington, D.C.

If you read Amazon's list of "Key preferences and decision drivers," you can pick out things that probably counted against us. New York conservatives will point to "stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure." Another obvious qualification that we lacked: proximity to "an international airport with daily direct flights to Seattle, New York, San Francisco/Bay Area, and Washington, DC."

And at one point, Bezos himself had said that he didn't want HQ2 to dominate a community's labor market. It sure would've in Rochester.

But here's something else I noticed – which is related to the vibe our son noticed in Seattle: Many of them are truly metropolitan. Almost all are either relatively big cities themselves, or they're within the metro area of a big city.

The exceptions (depending on where you want to draw the population line) are Pittsburgh and Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh's population is about 459,000. Pittsburgh's: just over 303,600. Rochester's: 210,000.

But the population of Raleigh's metropolitan area – which encompasses the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle – is over 2 million. And it was an early tech and research area. Pittsburgh's metro population is also over 2 million, and the city is home to numerous corporate headquarters, whose officials helped spur the city's resurgence.

Rochester's metro population is just over 1 million. The city is home to the corporate headquarters of Kodak. If you include the region, you can add Wegmans and Paychex. The loss of the clout of Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch and Lomb can't be overstated.

I don't mean to diss this city or this region. I love it here. And I guess I'm glad we tried to lure Amazon (though I'd love to know what we were willing to give away – and what local leaders planned to do to prevent housing prices from skyrocketing).

But I was disappointed at the outset at how we presented ourselves: as "Rochester-Buffalo" – which, some of us here speculated, meant local bidders thought it would be fine if Amazon plopped HQ2 down in Batavia.

And that's my point. Rochester-Buffalo isn't a community. Rochester and its suburbs and little exurbs should be, but we don't think of ourselves as part of one whole. We've sprawled, and we've separated ourselves from one another. We may love our little separate communities, but "separate and little" has its downside.

Jeff Bezos was looking for a metropolitan community. He found 20 he liked. We're not one of them.

(More on the Amazon story later.)

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