Mayor to Amazon: You’re offering 50,000 jobs? $5 billion in construction? Thanks, but no thanks

As of late, it seems like nearly every city in America is vying for the attention of Amazon in hopes of attracting the planned HQ2 campus of the multibillion-dollar corporation. The second headquarters for Amazon promises to create 50,000 high-paying jobs and $5 billion in construction, for starters. 

The city where I am mayor – Little Rock, Ark. – used to be one of the eager suitors.

Eager to sweep Amazon off its feet, I met with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and a team of our best and brightest business leaders to discuss our proposal. But as we reviewed the list of traits Amazon was looking for in an HQ2 city, we realized it would never work out between us.

We know ourselves well enough to realize that an ill-fated courtship could ruin everything we’ve worked to achieve for our city, which is on track to become one of the best places to live, work and go to school in the South.

As mayor of Little Rock, I must admit that our city was at first blindly smitten by the glamour of HQ2. And really, who wasn’t?

Amazon estimates its investments in Seattle from 2010 through 2016 resulted in an additional $38 billion to the city’s economy. And every dollar invested by Amazon in Seattle generated an additional $1.40 for the city’s economy overall.

My hat is off to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his company for creating such competition, intrigue and hope for America’s cities, 238 of which are putting their best foot forward in an effort to attract attention.

Chicago has even hired actor William Shatner, best-known from his TV and movie roles as Captain Kirk on “Star Trek” to pitch the city to Amazon. And one city even offered to rename itself “Amazon.”

But in Little Rock, we decided to make a very public break-up announcement to let the world know that while we are not right for Amazon, our city is available for business. Thus, we embarked on a targeted campaign and launched a website called Love, Little Rock.

We even called a press conference to announce the campaign with several community partners, including our local U.S. Rep. French Hill – a Republican and former Chamber president – to create a conversation with Amazon and spur a sense of pride among Little Rock residents.

The letter we wrote to Amazon says is all – the company is smart and wildly successful. It just won’t work out, this time.

But our Amazon fantasy got us thinking about all the other businesses out there that we might actually be compatible with, and then it hit us: Instead of creating a proposal for a company that wasn’t really interested in us, we decided to focus on attracting partners that are looking for a city just like ours – and there are plenty out there.

Thanks to our short commute times, easy access to beautiful parks, urban office spaces, ample building sites and a thriving tech scene, a lot of companies find a lot to love here.

Our message to businesses we are trying to attract to our city can be summarized in our 10 Reasons To Love Little Rock: Inventive thinking; financial freedom; leisurely living; international connections; gifted residents; ample education opportunities; enthusiasm for environmentally friendly practices; picturesque natural areas; Southern comfort; and devotion to doing good.

As the incoming president of the National League of Cities, I strongly believe that the strength of America’s businesses is integral to our national economy. And there is no underestimating the power of competitiveness and innovation that is at the heart of our success.

Little Rock applauds Amazon’s game-changing success and the opportunity to showcase our amazing city. We’ve started a conversation, and we look forward to finding the perfect fit.

Meanwhile, thank you, Amazon. The exciting race to find your HQ2 could only happen in America. For that, we salute you.

Mark Stodola, Mayor of the City of Little Rock, Arkansas.