Lessons from Amazon HQ2

In case you haven’t heard, Amazon is canceling its much-aligned plan to build a second headquarters in Queens, New York.

Would having a large Amazon footprint in NYC have created jobs? Probably. Would it have helped the local tech economy over subsequent years? Maybe. Would it have exacerbated the already bad affordable housing market? Almost certainly.

The lessons for any company trying to make a big move like this in the coming years:

  1. Reputation matters. If your company is already known for destroying small business and treating workers poorly, the local community may not want to invite you with open arms. (Not to mention the tech industry isn’t exactly coming off as trustworthy in general right now.)

  2. Back door deals with politicians, even ones with good intentions, are always going to be received with immediate criticism. Trust has to be earned. Always better to do the hard work of community engagement up front—but that’ll be even harder if you haven’t covered off on point 1.

  3. Amazon didn’t help either of these by making cities fall all over themselves to offer tax breaks and other incentives in an embarrassing public display of adulation. The whole process was gross.

We live in an economy where quote-unquote normal people have an increasing amount of power to organize and have their voices heard. Adjust your strategy accordingly.