Consequences, Good and Bad, if Amazon Comes to RTP

As Amazon combs through scores of proposals for the site of its second headquarters, the Research Triangle Park should stand out as an attractive choice. The center will be a massive economic boon for whoever locks it down, and North Carolina would do well to achieve that.

Over the last year or so, North Carolina has actually lost an outsized number of information jobs, with the total falling by almost 7000 just in the last year. If Amazon were to drop anchor in RTP, this trend would not only skid to a halt, but completely rebound. The announcement for HQ2 claims that Amazon will seek almost 50,000 well-paying jobs. Whereas Cisco and IBM have recently chosen to lay off workers in the area, Amazon would inject thousands of careers offering upwards of $100,000 in salary

RTP has plenty of advantages. Other obvious areas on the short-list include San Francisco and Northern Virginia, but these are already quite urbanized. RTP would provide enough space for the HQ2 campus to have room for expansion, not only for the facility but for those coming in to work. The region also houses strong universities that could easily partner and feed into Amazon for years to come. 

While the jobs provided would mostly bolster our Information numbers, another struggling sector could also see improvements. The proposal also lists an expected $5 billion spent on construction, which has also lapsed over the last year. Individuals interested in the jobs at Amazon as a bloc are by-and-large financially secure, along with most others with degrees beyond high school. Well-paying jobs in fields like construction are becoming rarer, and as NC faces a decline in that department over the next few years, a massive investment from Amazon would go a long way. The benefit from the center would not only go to highly educated North Carolinians. 

Beyond the immediate construction for the HQ, new housing and transportation would need to follow as the scale of the project increases over the years. More people would move into the RTP, allowing for a broader affluent tax base and more revenue to fund further infrastructure improvements. Furthermore, college educated families will likely emphasize the need for competitive schools, hopefully increasing education funding in the state.

An influx of college-educated men and women coming from out of state will also have political effects. Though the divide is complex when broken down, on the whole college graduates tend to vote more consistently for Democrats. An influx of this voting group into the state will push North Carolina from purple toward blue. However slight that may be, elections in this state tend to hinge on swings of just a few percentage points. Thousands of new votes in a different direction will factor into that calculus. 

In that regard, North Carolina could transition toward a similar model to that in Virginia. That same demographic, college-educated, flocked to Northern Virginia to work in and around D.C., and they do not adhere to the same politics as the rest of the Old Dominion. The region is so divergent from the rest of the state that some (jokingly) suggest it could secede. Liberal Virginians packed into the top corner of the state have enough numbers to make an historically conservative state more consistently blue.

The effects of regional liberalization in NoVa could come to the Triangle, too. North Carolina has one of the largest populations in the country, and a lot of these people are packed into urban centers like Charlotte and the Triangle. If thousands more flock to the latter, the rural-urban divide in the state could grow worse, with cities flourishing while rural communities languish.

This is not an indictment on Amazon. If they were to come to Raleigh, it would benefit the state as a whole. The question that must then be answered is how those gains are realized by all North Carolinians. North Carolina is doing well economically from a macro view, but individual groups still struggle. It will be incumbent on the legislators of the state to fund programs that help employ rural North Carolinians, ensuring they do not continue to fall behind.

This split in North Carolina is not an aberrance; the divide between rural and urban Americans is ubiquitous and an issue that needs to be addressed. Perhaps North Carolina could pioneer that cause by ensuring all of its citizens can benefit from an opportunity such as the Amazon HQ2.


Kirk KovachComment