Jayne: Add to Wish List, Cart: Amazon HQ2 in Vancouver

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor



Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

We can do this. No, really, we can do this. But as with any attempt to fully cook a half-baked idea, it will require some inspiration, some drive, some words of wisdom to remind us that impossible is nothing.

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” — Robert F. Kennedy

So, why not Clark County? Why can’t Vancouver be home to Amazon’s HQ2, the separate but equal headquarters the company announced this week? At stake is a $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs, according to Amazon officials, and the announcement has set off a Pavlovian response among leaders of cities great and small throughout North America.

That includes Clark County, where Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said, “A project of this scale is certainly an incredible opportunity that will require strong collaboration among regional partners in order to be competitive against other communities.”

Yes, we know this is absurdly far-fetched. Bomar probably knows it, too. It’s one thing to lure companies to the Columbia Tech Center; it’s quite another to play footsie with the world’s third-largest retailer. But, just for kicks and giggles, play along with us here.

“We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook.” — Haile Selassie

Under the headline, “Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for You,” reporters for The New York Times examined the criteria spelled out by Amazon officials. They looked at areas where “job growth is strong,” and where “the right labor pool is large and growing,” and where “the quality of life is high” and “workers can easily get around — and out of town.” As the Times wrote: “An Amazon priority is mass transit, and it has asked applicants to provide their traffic congestion rankings during peak commuting hours.”

This isn’t fake news; these were the amenities Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the company is looking for in its second home. And as the reporters narrowed the list, knocking off the likes of Buffalo and Memphis and Salt Lake City, Portland found itself among the final four candidates.

Now, Portland might not sound as sexy as Denver or Boston or Washington, D.C., but there are valid reasons for Amazon to consider the Rose City for its new headquarters.

“We can do hard things.” — Crestline elementary student Payton Rush, as quoted often by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Dream big, evolve

That is where Vancouver comes in. Because while the Couv isn’t exactly Portland, it’s actually better suited for Amazon’s purposes.

Downtown Vancouver is closer to Portland International Airport than downtown Portland is; Vancouver has more room for constructing office space within reach of the city’s core; and Vancouver has a huge waterfront development in the works that can serve as the big toe for Amazon’s massive corporate footprint.

The company can tell the world that its new headquarters are in “Portland,” lending it some cosmopolitan cachet, while actually setting up shop on this side of the river. Oh, and Washington has no state income tax, which might be of interest to the people who inhabit corner offices with a view of the river.

You see? It’s perfect. Even if The New York Times ruled out Portland “because it makes little sense for the company to put a second headquarters so close to Seattle.”

Now, bringing Amazon’s second headquarters to Clark County might sound about as likely as a reality TV star winning the presidency. But the idea should make local residents think about the future. It should make us think about the I-5 Bridge and about light rail and about our vision for Vancouver. Amazon may be a Pollyannaish dream, but the real question is whether we will be prepared when the next transformative company is within reach.

What’s dangerous is not to evolve. — Jeff Bezos