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Can Pittsburgh learn from all the loser talk about Amazon HQ2?

Jan. 18, 2018

Trib Live

Flabbergasted. Disappointing. A wake-up call.

The soul-searching began right away in Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, Charlotte, Memphis and many of the 200-plus cities coping Thursday with the news that they didn’t make Amazon’s list of 20 finalists to host its second headquarters.

Pittsburgh made it , but the city and its metro area have some of the same persistent challenges with improving the quality of secondary education, expanding mass transit and retaining talented college graduates that sunk its competitors.

In what appeared to be a rare conference call from Amazon, the Detroit Free Press reported , Detroit officials learned that the region wasn’t chosen because it doesn’t have a sufficient “talent pool.”

“But this is the NFL. Economic development at this level, it ain’t bean bag,” Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told the Free Press. “We were good, but we weren’t good enough on the talent front.”

In Cleveland, the Plain-Dealer reported that even though the city lost out, the nonprofit that submitted its bid plans to keep its application “a protected business trade secret” to use for other economic development prospects.

Some in Memphis said missing out on HQ2 should rally support to improve the state of its public school system.

“We ought to use the rejection as a galvanizing event,” the Rev. Ken Whalum Jr., a former Memphis school board member, told the Commercial Appeal. “Our leadership is still in denial about the quality of the public schools.”

In what is arguably the most surprising miss, HQ2 supporters in Charlotte couldn’t believe the growing city isn’t good enough to make the top 20.

“I am absolutely flabbergasted that Charlotte didn’t make the list,” Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari told the Charlotte Observer . “If you had said five cities were on the short list and Charlotte wasn’t one of them, I’d say, ‘All right, I guess I understand that.’ … Something’s wrong here.”

In the Baltimore Sun , Amazon’s snub was reported as just the latest in a series of bad national news stories, including a record number of homicides in 2017, students trying to learn in unheated school classrooms and a patient-dumping scandal.

“Maybe this is our wake-up call,” Seema Iyer, an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business, told the paper. “We have got to start having that conversation.”

Buffalo, N.Y., and Rochester teamed up to submit a joint bid, hoping that by combining their resources in Western New York, they could compete with larger metro areas. It didn’t work, but organizers told The Buffalo News that the unique tandem attempt left them more confident about cooperating.

“We’re disappointed, because we always go into every search thinking we can win,” Thomas Kucharski, president and CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara. “I think we can compete together with a lot of those that made the final list.”