Like so many US cities, Boston is pushing hard to be selected for Amazon’s new headquarters, dubbed Amazon HQ2. This well-intentioned effort is filled with special incentives, but that’s nothing compared to what we’re really putting at risk: our most precious natural resource: our brains.

Amazon HQ2 would make it harder for Boston startups to innovate, and to attract and retain talent. The promise of fifty thousand new jobs may sound enticing, but in reality, we will see fifty thousand lost opportunities to start new companies, solve big problems, launch unique local retailers, or join one of the many companies already doing those things.

So, why would Amazon want Boston?

Looking out my window at the snow and cold, they are clearly not after our weather. Amazon would choose Boston for one main reason: we have lots of smart people doing smart things. Boston (and its surrounding environs) is one of the most important manufacturers of smart people. MIT alone has created companies that have generated values greater than the GDP of most countries — not to mention ideas generated at schools, like Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, UMass, Tufts, Northeastern, Emerson, Babson, and others. The Boston area has lots of rich talent, and Amazon wants access to it.

Why doesn’t my company support Boston’s bid for Amazon HQ2?

Our intentions may seem obvious. At Promoboxx, we provide a retail marketing platform that allows brands to support their local retailers. Our core value is believe in retailers. So, of course, Promoboxx can’t support Amazon. Right? To our retailers, Amazon is the big bully, the Godzilla, the Darth Vader, the “he who shall not be named.”

This is more perception than reality. Collectively our local retailers sell things like appliances, bikes, cars, specialty running shoes and other considered purchases that people just don’t buy on Amazon. They have no reason to fear Amazon, but we do.

What we are really concerned about is our startup ecosystem.

The promise of fifty thousand jobs will bring some new people to the state, but it will also cannibalize the local companies who are already fighting over a precious group of talent. Talent that would otherwise help build startups and solve cutting-edge, real-world problems will be monopolized by the lure of Amazon and big company benefits. In a community that derives much of its identity from its innovation sector, Amazon HQ2 is a real threat.

In the end, if Amazon chooses Boston, we’ll understand. The greater Boston area is full of culture, strong independent businesses, and pride — not to mention a great place to raise a family. Our government officials should be careful not to give up too many special incentives, but rather consider using those to support the local businesses that really drive the innovation and jobs in this state.

 

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