BIDLACK | HQ2 will be both blessing and burden wherever it ends up

Author: Hal Bidlack - April 24, 2018 - Updated: April 24, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

It’s all about the jobs, right? Economic development means more jobs for more people, and that’s how we grow our prosperity. Therefore, I was intrigued by a very interesting article here on Colorado Politics, authored by Colorado Politics Managing Editor Mark Harden. Mr. Harden reported on the results of a survey of residents in the 20 cities selected by Amazon as finalists for their proposed second headquarters building (isn’t it interesting that a company can be so big that I don’t have to explain the single-word name? Amazon! Target! Cher?).

The arrival of HQ2, as they call it, would mean roughly 50,000 new jobs and roughly $5 billion in investment. That’s a lot of jobs and a ton of money. So, one might expect the people of the 20 finalists to be pretty stoked to win the grand prize. Yet, the good people of Colorado seem to be a tad less enthusiastic than one might expect. According the Mr. Harden’s story, the polling of the various cities showed that “strong support” for bringing HQ2 to Denver is the lowest of any of the finalists. Only 35% of Denver residents strongly support getting Amazon to pick the Mile High City. Contrast this with three cities – Atlanta, Pittsburg, and Indianapolis – that have strong support levels north of 50%.

I can’t help but be reminded of what seems like a similar story back in 1976, when Colorado voters turned back the already-awarded Olympic Winter Games. Seen by many as a White Elephant (readers under 30 are encouraged to do a Google search. See? Another company – Google – that you know from one word!). The opposition worried that the burden of hosting an Olympics prove too costly to the taxpayers and to the environment. As an aside, I heard my old friend John Denver tell the story more than once that part of his motivation in writing Rocky Mountain High (one of Colorado’s state songs) was to oppose the games. Did you ever wonder the inspiration behind these lyrics?

Now his life is full of wonder

but his heart still knows some fear

of a simple thing he cannot comprehend.

Why they try to tear the mountains

down to bring in a couple more

more people

more scars upon the land.

Those surveyed were particularly concerned about the impacts of the new HQ2 on housing costs, traffic, and crowding. Given the Denver-area’s already record prices for homes and apartments, this would seem to be a legitimate concern. And one need only venture out onto I-25 (I was about to type “during rush hour” but frankly, unless you travel at 3 am, you know the highways and streets of the Denver metro region are pretty much always crowded) to see how challenging transportation already is, without the new people the HQ2 would bring in.

So, we really don’t want HQ2, right? Well…

As with so many things, where you stand depends on where you sit. I’m guessing that most of the folks who were recorded as “strongly supportive” are people who already have jobs and housing they can afford. If you are less likely to be impacted by rising housing costs, you are less likely to oppose Amazon, seeing instead the many upsides such a development would bring. But if you are one of the many good citizens of Colorado who live paycheck to paycheck, the notion of bringing in a major development that would push your already high rent or mortgage payments even higher is most certainly not welcomed. More traffic would be a headache but finding yourself priced out of the housing market entirely is lifechanging.

I don’t claim to have the answer. As a regular guy, with a military pension and a couple of side jobs, I can afford the house in Colorado Springs I bought in the 1990s, though I confess that I would not be able to afford this same house today, as Colorado Springs is only slightly behind Denver when it comes to unaffordable housing. I’m safely in the life boat, so is opposing HQ2 pulling up the ladder? Is my worry about urban sprawl and gridlock traffic enough to deny a new job to someone that really needs one? I don’t know. I do know that Amazon’s HQ2 will be a blessing and burden wherever it ends up. Undoubtedly the city that wins will also have losses, and the losers will win a bit. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m waiting for an Amazon package to arrive – it’s so convenient.

Wait, I forgot to say something about Mr. Trump! (Ed: sorry, you’re out of words).

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.