The Amazon headquarters sweepstakes: It’s fun to play!

Why would someone buy lottery tickets every week, week in, week out for years – even decades?  They know intuitively the chance of them winning the big one is infinitesimal but they get out there every week.  In fact, the larger the jackpot -and hence the more unlikely the chance of winning – the more people who play.

If you ask them they will say: It’s fun to play.

The little thrill every week from seeing if your string of numbers matches the winner is worth the investment.

The same process is playing out with the Amazon HQ that has been dangled around.  Never mind that some suspect that Amazon actually has already selected its  city and is trolling around to get a better incentives deal.  Even if it was an actual competition (which it probably is) the chances that your community will win the big one is infinitesimal.

Google the story.  You will find City Councillors and mayors from Biloxi to Halifax to Vancouver all eager to serve up a bid.  Many, like Vancouver, are hiring whizzy firms like Deloitte to craft the value proposition.  Paying tens of thousands of dollars for a chance at billions?  Why not?

It’s fun to play.

For a few weeks, economic development is front and centre.  Local newspapers are covering the story of the Halifax bid (actually the Canadian Press).  Detroit thinks Amazon will restore its former glory.  Windsor, Ontario wants in – talking a joint pitch with Detroit.  The mayor of Chicago wrote an op-ed stating why it should be in the Windy City.  Even Moncton should bid – jointly – a virtual HQ – everyone wins!

Cynics might say this is all just a waste of time and resources.  Over a two month period likely millions of dollars – maybe tens of millions – will be spent – time and effort on bids.  Why not focus your resources where you have a better chance of success?

I am not as cynical.  Having been involved in dozens of big ‘pitches’ over the years (including writing a proposal to attract a Mercedes manufacturing plant in the early 1990s), I believe they have the side effect of helping communities hone their value proposition for investment and uncover gaps that are holding back growth.  This intelligence – gleaned while buying the lottery tickets – helps down the line.