This article appeared in the Sept. 15 issue of Inside INdiana Business’ Inside Edge newsletter.
In the economic development world, Amazon’s search for a second headquarters (or “HQ2,” as the cool kids call it) is sucking up all the oxygen at the water cooler – and with good reason. If the recent eclipse was a generational event in the astronomical world, the same can be said for the Amazon project in economic development circles. Fifty thousand jobs paying $100,000 a year and a $5 billion capital investment? A project of this ilk may not come again in our lifetime.
With a Central Indiana alliance of Indianapolis and Fishers announcing they are all-in, the question becomes, “What will it take for Team Indy to be competitive?” Here are our eight keys to a winning proposal.
Do Your Homework
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ fastidious attention to detail is legendary, even within the rarified atmosphere of tech titans. This attribute has famously permeated itself within the Amazon culture and undoubtedly the minds of its decision-makers. Indy must immerse itself in 24/7 cram sessions on everything Amazon. The starting point: Team Indy must make multiple visits to the Amazon campus and perform exhaustive research into the company’s history, growth, and culture. By this time next month Team Indy needs to know the Amazon culture as well as the restaurants that dot Mass Ave and Fountain Square.
Bring Your Checkbook
Like statistics? Here’s one: The word “incentive” appears in Amazon’s RFP 21 times. Here’s another: Wisconsin is on the hook for $3 billion in incentives for the Foxconn deal – a project promising one-third the number of jobs at 50 percent the expected wages. The city, region, state, and legislature must accept the harsh reality of this deal’s multi-billion dollar price tag. If Indy wins it will be worth every penny, but there must be unanimous consent at every level of government: Team Indy is all-in.
Demonstrate to Your Constituencies that If Indy Wins, Everybody Wins
Education is needed that this project will benefit the greater Indy region and state, not just Indianapolis. The direct and indirect economic statewide impact would be enormous, but Team Indy can’t take it for granted the rest of the state “gets it” – that this is not an Indianapolis-only play. The very public kick-off generated a lot of excitement and revealed a pragmatic focus on swift execution, but it’s now critical to visibly and substantively expand this team to include Central Indiana mayors, legislators, and the state.
Put Your Best Team on the Field
Once education happens and buy-in exists, demonstrate a spirit of true partnership by giving stakeholders an important seat at the table. Draw from the strengths of the public and private sector from all corners of the state, such as industry associations, real estate developers, workforce experts, and the arts community. The state has so many reservoirs of phenomenal resources ready to contribute to this effort. Don’t leave any talent on the bench.
Turn Your Lemons into Lemonade
Team Indy has compelling assets to feature, but significant gaps demand attention. Turn these weaknesses into strengths. One example is the RFP’s call for the “presence and support of a diverse population.” While Indy can’t compete with the demographic diversity of some other markets, “support” of a diverse population is low-hanging fruit Team Indy must grab. For example, no city in the country has solved the diversity issue in the tech sector. With its world-class universities and tech workforce growing exponentially, Indy is in prime position to be a world leader and make any lingering hangover from RFRA a distant memory. It will take a creative strategy, dollars, and a long-term commitment, but this can be Team Indy’s magic bullet to outshine the competition.
Put on Your Creative
From Prime to user ratings, so many elements of the Amazon experience have become iconic. As such, this proposal is ripe with opportunities to present a cool look and feel that’s both creative and resonates with the Amazon culture and brand. Incorporate these elements into a presentation that would make Don Draper proud.
Win by a Couple of Touchdowns
For Team Indy, a solid, professional proposal may generate a kindly worded rejection letter, but that won’t cut it. Indy doesn’t have the same cache as Denver, Boston, Austin, and some of the other perceived front-runners. To be truly competitive, Team Indy’s proposal will have to be markedly better than its closest competitor. Our internal gauge on big pitches is this: When we think we’ve done all we can possibly do, were about 20 percent of the way there. Team Indy, when your proposal is as good as it can be, make it a lot better.
Survive and Advance
If this article can withstand one more sports analogy, it’s the March Madness mantra of “survive and advance.” A site selection of this magnitude will go through various gauntlets before a final decision is made. Team Indy must do everything legally and ethically acceptable to get through to the next round. Survive and advance should be taped to every dry marker board in the Team Indy war room.
While the competition is stiff, Indy can win this thing. But Team Indy also must embrace that a losing-but-rave-reviewed bid would strongly enhance the state’s growing reputation as a place that can unapologetically compete for the very best projects in the world. If Team Indy submits a proposal good enough to win, the effort has been worth it, and the rewards will follow … win or lose.