The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion In the DMV, if one wins Amazon, we all win

(Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Ever since Amazon narrowed its list of locations for a second headquarters, analysts have declared the capital region among the top contenders. For many, it’s a matter of basic probability: Out of 20 finalists, three – the District, Northern Virginia and Montgomery County – are a stone’s throw from each other, the largest cluster of competing localities to advance in the Amazon playoffs.

As business leaders, we understand firsthand the unique assets and quality of life that the Washington area has to offer, strengths that are too often overlooked by others. As home to world-class universities, people speaking 200 languages and a workforce with a higher portion of bachelor’s degree holders than anywhere else in the country, this is a place that understands the symbiosis of entrepreneurship and social responsibility, capitalism and philanthropy, global competition and culture. It is the place where people come to pursue the impossible – and where they enjoy a first-rate restaurant scene while doing it.

And yet, while the capital region should be an obvious choice for Amazon, we should leave nothing to chance. A successful bid is possible only if we put our best regional foot forward, working together to identify and address all the promising opportunities and potential challenges.

With the promise of bringing 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital investment to the winning location — and, most important, enough spillover economic impact to reshape any regional economy for decades — Amazon is being courted by the nation’s top cities, each offering its own cocktail of incentives and impressive proposals. Only the Washington area, however, can offer a three-for-one bargain: an aspiring “supercity” trifecta of qualified and interconnected jurisdictions with access to an unmatched talent pool. Where others see state and local boundaries, we see one cohesive workforce, a unified economy uniquely poised to support Amazon’s growth and share in its rewards.

What we need now is to demonstrate region-wide unity that puts together the most compelling case. We need to make it undeniably clear to Amazon that wherever it chooses here, it will get the best the region has to offer. Any proposal that does otherwise is missing the point: If one wins, we all win.

Our proximity to the talent, technology and policy-making of the federal government is an undisputable draw for Amazon that no other competing city can match. But so is the transformational cultural and entrepreneurial growth that has been underway here in recent years, as our area works to diversify its future.

The capital region, stretching from Baltimore to Richmond, is the third-largest regional economy in the United States and the seventh-largest on the planet. Its metro centers have become increasingly connected in recent years. Nearly half of all daily commuters — 2.4 million people — cross county lines, and almost a fifth of workers travel across state boundaries on the way to work each morning. There are few other places where Amazon would be able to harness such a diverse and well-educated workforce, and few other places where so many residents, businesses and governments would benefit from this once-in-decades opportunity to reshape a regional economy.

The promise of jobs and economic investment is significant, but even more so is Amazon’s ability to help transform this area into a world-leading technology hub. The 21 organizations that make up the Greater Washington Partnership, for instance, recently projected that collectively they will need to hire at least 20,000 digital-tech workers over next five years. Many are already taking steps to foster that growth. Amazon is our best chance to remodel the world’s perception of the capital region, attract even more talent and fuel our ongoing development as a digital-tech powerhouse, a place where people come together to solve the world’s biggest problems.

There’s no doubt Amazon would boost our ability to compete globally and raise incomes in the region, but where there is opportunity there are also challenges that we need to be transparent about and confront head-on. Faster growth undoubtedly would make the need to tackle the area’s shortcomings in transportation, affordable housing and urban development even more urgent — issues that if addressed with a united regional mind-set would send a strong signal to Amazon that we have the thoughtfulness and fortitude to be responsible stewards of this potentially once-in-a-generation economic investment.

Some of these collaborative steps are underway. This year, for the first time, the District, Maryland and Virginia are concurrently discussing deals to provide dedicated, bondable funding for Metro, the only major transit system in the country without such a form of long-term cash flow.

It is no coincidence that proposals from our three Amazon finalists all identify potential building sites next to a Metro station. More than ever, it is vital that elected leaders from all sides act regionally and pass legislation this year to provide the transit system the sufficient dedicated funding and appropriate governance reform it needs to prosper, which is a first step in tackling broader congestion issues that threaten our region. Amazon can be the catalyst we need to finally accomplish this and many other important joint initiatives in the Washington area.

Amazon says it will make its decision later this year. If we want one of our three regional bids to break through the noise and beat other metropolitan juggernauts, the Capital Region must make a clear demonstration of unity. Jurisdictional one-upsmanship has hampered progress here in the past. The leaders of the District, Maryland and Virginia have a unique opportunity to  together showcase the strengths of the whole region in a powerful way.

Together we can demonstrate to Amazon and our residents that, with clear eyes, we will confront the challenges of growth and investment. Together we can fully harness the benefits that an Amazon headquarters would bring. This is a place where people come to change the world. With one collective mindset — if one wins, we all win — the whole capital region will prevail.

Russ Ramsey, Ted Leonsis and Sheila Johnson are board members of the Greater Washington Partnership and were board members of Washington’s bid for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.