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Is Missouri’s ‘Innovation Corridor’ Enough to Draw Amazon to the State?

The state of Missouri is equally supportive of proposals from St. Louis and Kansas City suggesting both cities as home to Amazon's second headquarters — but it's submitted its own bid too.

by / November 1, 2017

From Tucson to Chicago, Mexico to Toronto, 238 cities and states are competing to be home to Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2), an undertaking estimated to generate up to 50,000 jobs and cost at least $5 billion to build.

But when representatives from St. Louis and Kansas City each sought state support for their proposals, Missouri officials made an unusual, Solomonic decision. It backed both cities “equally, impartially and objectively" — but submitted its own proposal too.

Population is key to Amazon: applying cities must have a base of at least 1 million citizens. But Missouri Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann said the technology and retail company encouraged the state to make its pitch.

Missouri’s request to Amazon: Locate in both St. Louis and Kansas City and be linked along “a 240-mile-long innovation corridor” between the state’s “major economic and innovation centers.”

The connector would be the electric-powered, pneumatic tube train Hyperloop One, which is being studied for feasibility, and could potentially slash commute times from nearly four hours to under 30 minutes.

Employing the principles of magnetic levitation and pneumatic tubes, Hyperloop One is being examined by Colorado, Texas and Missouri. Ryan Weber, president of the Kansas City Tech Council (KCTC), an industrial association for technology companies and regional industry advocate, said an announcement of which entity will do Missouri’s study should come closer to Thanksgiving.

The futuristic train is not a reality yet, said Erdmann, but it’s also “not an outlandish concept.”

“And that led us at the state-level to the conclusion, ‘Well, that would be an interesting idea. Let’s challenge Amazon to be bolder,’” the COO said, pointing out that while Amazon will likely begin standing up HQ2 far sooner, its overall timeline is “focused on decades.”

“We’re saying to Amazon, if you take a 10- or 20-year perspective, we’re betting on change, we’re betting on innovation. We think it’s actually more risky to bet on stasis than change,” he added.

Offering access to combined metropolitan populations of around 5 million via the “distributed model” of two cities would address infrastructure, real estate and related strains that would otherwise impact any major metropolitan area, Erdmann said.

The COO noted that should either St. Louis or Kansas City win independently of the state, Missouri is confident either area would be able to support “immediate deployment” from Amazon. And he said that even if no Missouri entity wins, merely submitting a proposal helped state officials “sharpen” their game, and motivated local agencies to collaborate.

“Not just individual, fragmented communities but we as Missouri need to step up and compete, and we need to compete together,” Erdmann said.

Financial details including subsidies and incentives are few, with some specifics shielded by law and governments reluctant to negotiate in public, but the Missouri cities also made their own unique cases — both linked to neighboring states.

The Kansas City region’s proposal — including Kansas City, Kansas — spanned 18 counties and was the “largest regional response effort” in the history of the Kansas City Area Development Council, the organization said.

In statements, Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland name-checked his city’s work with Google Fiber and Cerner Corp. as evidence of its “business-friendly, can-do attitude." Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James said he was “extremely proud” of the bid and how the community embraced a “unique opportunity.”

Weber compared Kansas City to Seattle before companies like Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon scaled up.

“Kansas City has done that for Cerner, Garmin, Sprint and we can do it again for another company. It was more about growing with Amazon than anything else,” the KCTC president said.

According to the St. Louis Economic Partnership, that city’s proposal offered a Mississippi riverfront site that spans the river and crosses the Illinois border to meet Amazon’s specifications as “urban, vibrant, connected to light rail and in a region ready to deliver the tech workforce they will need.”

In addition to support from Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, St. Louis’ submission included a letter from Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner — who’s also supporting a bid by Chicago. Both city proposals were submitted on Thursday, Oct. 19.

One St. Louis official said he likes the region’s chances better since the state threw its hat in the ring.

“Really, what the state’s proposal has done is, I think it’s elevated our visibility and created a conversation around Missouri as an innovation hub that is really extremely positive and can only enhance our chance,” said Andrew Smith, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition.

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Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.

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