Editorial: Amazon HQ efforts fruitless without investing in talent

Amazon is on the hunt for a location to build its second massive, job-creating headquarters, and even the University of Miami helped with Miami’s bid to attract the company.

However, realistically speaking, Miami just isn’t the right place.

Miami isn’t the first city that comes to mind when we think “tech-giant headquarters.” However, Miami has one special advantage – Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, is from Miami. If any long-shot city has a slightly shorter shot than the rest, it’s the city where the CEO spent his formative high school years. Even a tech genius like Bezos might have a soft spot for his own community, especially in terms of helping the impoverished pockets and speeding up development in Miami.

Amazon has definitely left a mark on its first headquarters, Seattle. It provides new retail spaces and public outdoor recreation areas, employs over 20,000 locals and sponsors many community events and initiatives, according to an Amazon press release.

But the changes haven’t all been pleasant. Housing prices in Seattle have risen dramatically over the past five years, far surpassing the national trends. Highly-skilled Amazon employees have moved in with six-figure salaries and, as one Reuters columnist complains, have established a new culture dominated by predominantly white, male, recent college graduates.

Miami has the potential to become a forward-thinking, technologically-advanced city – and maybe even home to a tech giant – but we do not have the infrastructure, location or business climate to support this venture right now.

For a world city, Miami is too far behind in infrastructure to attract any tech or finance industries. Public transportation is inefficient, and roads are worn out and easily congested. The Amazon move – which would create as many as 50,000 jobs and take up to 1 million square feet of space – would only aggravate current problems, unless CEO Jeff Bezos wants to also plan an overhaul of Miami infrastructure and investment.

Despite expansion of the tech sector in recent years, Miami has a long way to go before it can even be considered a mid-level technology hub. Increases in venture capital are undeniably helpful, but we have yet to see the venture capital levels similar to those in cities such as Seattle and Washington D.C.

Beyond Miami being unprepared for Amazon, the headquarters of a tech superpower could destroy the culture of mom-and-pop shops. Small business is at the heart of Miami, and that culture could be radically changed if Amazon moves into town.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado met with commissioners in late September to discuss a potential location for the site, and he said Overtown would be the best location.

“It has to be in an urban setting,” Regalado said. “The only place is Overtown.”

Politicians see Amazon’s second headquarters as an opportunity for economic growth, which could help lift up one of the poorest neighborhoods in Miami. In reality, placing a massive high-tech campus in the middle of Overtown would isolate local businesses and gentrify the neighborhood, raising rents, pushing residents out of the area and creating another Wynwood. It would be the impetus behind the same kind of vicious cycle we’ve seen in Miami Beach, Little Havana and Little Haiti.

The commissioners should also keep in mind the history of Overtown, which was established as segregated neighborhood and flourished until Interstate 95 was built right through it, followed by Interstate 395. The bustling community established there was severely impacted by having a massive highway razed through it, and the neighborhood only recently started to regrow its cultural scene with developments such as Overtown Youth Center. It is misguided and tone-deaf to think that luring Amazon to Miami and planting it in the middle of what has long been considered a problem patch of the city will solve the high rates of crime and unemployment.

Strengthening a community must start from within. We cannot attract companies of Amazon’s caliber without giving them logistics and structure they can work with because it wouldn’t be smart business for them. It has to start with investing in the local communities without displacing residents. If Mayor Regalado wants to spur job growth and improvements in Miami’s poorest areas, he shouldn’t leave it to an outsider. And it shouldn’t take the curiosity of a company like Amazon to push local and state leaders to make improvements or investments that are badly needed.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.