Bids are in for the national sweepstakes to land Amazon’s second North American headquarters. Since the early September announcement that the Jeff Bezos-led e-commerce titan was looking to bring 50,000 jobs and $30+ billion in economic activity to some lucky city, there has been a fierce scramble by seemingly every mayor and economic development official in the country to attract the so-called HQ2.
The beating heart of a city or a region is the investment it makes in developing talent.
Now, the wait begins. These gimmicks, while enthusiastic and whimsical, will not carry the day alone. Buried in the Amazon guidance document to interested cities, applicants are asked highlight any “programs/partnerships currently available and potential creative programs with higher education institutions in the region.” This criterion suggests that Amazon knows what we know—that the beating heart of a city or a region is the investment it makes in developing talent.
Speculating which city is most likely to land this prize has become a popular parlor game in many media outlets, with Bloomberg guessing that it would come down to Toronto, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, or Denver, and the New York Times tabbing Washington, Boston, Denver, and Portland as likely frontrunners.
Let us suggest another pool of cities to consider: Those Lumina Foundation has designated as Talent Hubs. These 17 communities earned the Talent Hub seal by meeting rigorous standards for creating environments that attract, retain, and cultivate talent, particularly among today’s students. Talent Hubs leverage cross-sector partnerships to realize large visions, based on talent objectives, to improve quality of life for their communities. In other words, they build connections, mobilize community resources, and drive talent development in their region to create communities Amazon could call home.
Each Talent Hub city relies on programs and partnerships among local officials, community leaders, and providers of education and training beyond high school. These collaborative efforts seek to meet the demand for an educated workforce and create a sustainable engine for opportunity and growth.
Take for example the Talent Hub in Boston. There, Success Boston is building on a nearly decade-long partnership to create guided pathways for students at Bunker Hill Community College and UMass Boston and is sharing these lessons with other colleges and universities as well as city and state-level policymakers to inform policies related to college affordability and completion. Boston leverages the existing supports, namely the mayor’s tuition-free community college program and the Commonwealth Commitment, to create a talented workforce for their local economy. It’s exactly the kind of workforce Amazon is looking for.
Or the Talent Hub in Denver, where Denver Direct Pathways is pursuing a college completion and a workforce development strategy that will provide students clear paths to high-quality credentials in four high-demand areas: Information Technology, Business, Health, and Advanced Manufacturing. These pathways will start in high school and provide multiple entry and exit points, allowing students to use credentials in their employment and to facilitate timely and efficient completion. Denver’s designation as a Talent Hub recognizes its robust history of using a regional approach to solving challenges across the boundaries of various municipalities, an approach Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley highlight as an integral part of the Metropolitan Revolution. Whether addressing transportation issues, building an airport, or improving the post-high-school ecosystem to attract and retain strong technical talent, Denver has demonstrated that broad-based partnership is the most effective route to regional success.
And let’s not overlook Tulsa, where they are weaving together existing efforts to provide adults with no prior learning beyond high school the opportunity to earn meaningful first credentials in the high-growth areas of Information Technology, Professional Services, Transportation, Distribution & Logistics, and Manufacturing—a cross-section of jobs that should sound mighty appealing to this particular employer. Even better, Amazon won’t have to wait for a skilled workforce to be developed from the 18-to-22-year-old population. Tulsa, and Talent Hubs like it, are intensely focused on the adults in their community who are ready to earn that first industry-recognized credential. By aligning education and training after high school with employment, Tulsa can create a large, high-skilled workforce prepared for jobs that pay well, provide benefits, and offer opportunities for career advancement.
These examples, along with the rest of the 17 Talent Hubs, offer Amazon a great deal more than building sites—they provide community leaders and systems dedicated to improving their regional talent pools. These local leaders go to great lengths to make sure their communities have the talent Amazon wants. With only 17 cities designated nationally for their innovative approaches to solving complex issues, when asked where to locate Amazon’s HQ2, Alexa’s artificial intelligence should say, “Look to a Talent Hub.”